As the Senate gets set to vote on economic recovery legislation, religious organizations are gearing up to support it. In what’s hopefully the first of many articles, JTA’s Eric Fingerhut reports that Jewish leaders are reaching out to both houses of Congress:
Among those pushing hard for passage of the bill are officials at the United Jewish Communities, an arm of the North American network of local Jewish charitable federations, and the Jewish Council for Public affairs, an umbrella organization bringing together national organizations, the synagogue movements and more than 100 local Jewish communities.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is also pressing for the package, while the National Council of Jewish Women is backing a number of provisions in the bill.
The organizations are writing letters to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and urging members to contact their members of Congress. The UJC will bring 60 of its lay leaders here Wednesday, the day a vote is expected on the bill in the Senate, to lobby for its passage. The UJC delegation also will visit the House of Representatives to encourage support for the final version of the measure that comes out of conference committee.
I know plenty more faith groups are mobilizing too. Will be on the lookout for stories about their efforts and relay as I find them.
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Lately I’ve heard clergy, community organizers and religious lobbying groups from Colorado to Columbus to Capitol Hill discuss the need to ensure that economic recovery programs and funding actually reach the people who need them most. It’s easy to assume that legislation expressly meant to alleviate economic insecurity and poverty would address the needs of the most vulnerable, but such an assumption would be naive, so it’s encouraging to hear of the focus on securing concrete relief for people in dire straits.
Today’s edition of America Magazine lays out a detailed description of some of the specific needs economic recovery legislation has to address. Their prescriptions for a few…
With the steep rise in unemployment and food prices, participation in the food stamp program is nearing record highs. Between August 2007 and August 2008, caseloads nationwide increased by almost three million persons. But a month’s worth of stamps typically covers only thee weeks of the average family’s food bill. Consequently, as another component of the recovery package, anti-hunger advocates rightly urge Congress to boost the current food stamp benefits both to make stamps last through the month and to stimulate the economy. Every additional dollar in food stamps results in $1.73 in increased economic activity.
precisely at a time when help is most needed because of the escalating rate of unemployment, homeless prevention programs in some areas are being cut back because of state and local budget shortfalls. Congress should take steps to assist states facing this dilemma to withstand the economic pressures that push more people toward homelessness. In practical terms, housing advocates urge that recovery funds provide new non-renewable housing vouchers that would enable 200,000 families to have access to adequate housing through 2010. Along with vouchers, Congress should also provide an additional $1.5 to $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s emergency shelter grant program, to prevent an additional several hundred thousand families from becoming homeless.
Fewer than 40 percent of unemployed workers currently receive unemployment benefits. This is partly because many states follow policies unchanged for decades. As a result, numerous low-wage and part-time workers are ineligible for unemployment benefits when they are laid off. A federally funded increase in benefits, as well as an extension beyond the usual 26 weeks, would help ease the fallout from job losses.
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I am not an economist. I don’t even play one on TV. But, an idea put forth in today’s Christian Science Monitor makes perfect sense to me: to really stimulate the economy, we need to, among other things, ensure America’s nonprofits get their share of any stimulus package on the government’s proverbial table.
Monitor reporter Jane Lampman writes that “people in and outside the nonprofit sector” believe nonprofits should be included in stimulus talk; these proponents argue that nonprofits, compared to other organizations or companies, would use funds “most effectively in spurring an economic recovery.”
This might look like just the latest in a seemingly endless glut of articles in which various industries angle for a bailout. Yet, consider two realities:
—Lampman points out “The US nonprofit sector employs 10 percent of the workforce –more than the auto and steel industries combined.” I was surprised by these numbers…purely from the standpoint of job preservation, we need nonprofits to stay afloat.
—America’s nonprofits are among the best equipped to help other workers through their own struggles. The article reminds us that America’s nonprofits often serve as on-the-ground experts in some of the areas in which our country needs help most: identifying and assisting with low-income housing, community development and mortgage counseling.
President Obama has emphasized investments in infrastructure; let’s not forget that well-run, caring nonprofits are a major part of the infrastructure of a healthy community.
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It looks like Congress is hitting the ground running to address the moral crisis of our healthcare system’s failure to cover millions of children. According to an AP report today, the House is moving to extend and expand SCHIP in the next few days, pulling as many as 4 million more children into the ranks of the insured. Pres. Obama will almost certainly sign the bill if and when it hits his desk. Should this happen as expected, all involved deserve our applause and gratitude.
Expanding SCHIP is a good first step, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Even after it becomes law, as many as 5 million children will remain uninsured. I hope the faith community will a) congratulate Congress and the President for taking action so quickly, b) make clear that it’s only a step toward the greater effort to insure every last child in the country, and c) UNITE and resolve to hold Congress and the administration accountable for delivering on it. Interfaith, ideologically diverse communities can come together around the fact that all of their kids deserve coverage regardless of economic status.
When I was 8 and my brother was 5, his frequent migraines made him scream so loudly that i would run out of the house, covering my ears and crying. Because we had health insurance, we were able to take him to a succession of specialists until we found an effective treatment. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the countless families who can’t afford to stop the screaming. We can insure them all, and so we must.
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Just days before most of us sit down to eye-popping amounts of turkey, stuffing and pie, we read that nearly 1 in 8 Americans “struggled to feed themselves adequately last year.”
When I read stats like that, I’m reminded of words from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Many people of faith will be feeding the hungry this week at soup kitchens and shelters all over the country; this is absolutely necessary and I’m proud of the way my home church stepped out this year. This is, to use King’s analogy, playing the good Samaritan on life’s roadside.
This Thanksgiving, let’s also consider how “the whole Jericho road” of hunger can be transformed. Perhaps the way we can best show our gratitude for the things we’ve received is to fight for programs and policies that will not leave the hungry “constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey.” With a new Congress and President about to step into office, this is the time for a new politics of hunger, and people of faith can encourage that change.
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