In the language of the church, I want to work toward the Beloved Community -- a place where homelessness and poverty are no more. To move us forward, I'd settle for a housing levy that provides a stable source of funding to build affordable housing in Portland. We cannot end homelessness without housing. That's a lesson that was obvious 25 years ago, and it's a crime that we're dealing with the same issues a quarter of a century later.
From my op-ed today in The Oregonian. Click here to read the full piece.
It is good news that Congress passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act - legislation backed by many church groups - despite the opposition of figures such as Sarah Palin. It is disappointing, however, that Oregon's Greg Walden sided with Palin and voted against providing food for hungry kids. But since Walden is also taking the lead in blocking employment uninsurance assistance for millions of workers this holiday season while backing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans it is no surprise.
Press Release from the National Council of Churches
Washington, November 29, 2010 -- Representatives of 19 Christian church bodies today called upon the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Senate approved child nutrition bill.
"As leaders of faith communities, we see first-hand the suffering that food insecurity causes, particularly for families and children," said the letter addressed to House Democratic and Republican leaders and to all members of the House.
"Our children cannot wait any longer for improvements in nutrition programs. We regard passage of Child Nutrition Reauthorization as essential to combating the poverty that is engulfing growing numbers of children in the United States. One in five children in the United States now lives in poverty in our nation, the wealthiest nation in the world. Our faith compels us to speak out and to act on behalf of "the least of these" (Matthew 25: 40)."
The leaders expressed disappointment in the Senate bill, S. 3307, because it had been "weakened by compromise." Even so, they said, "it is the best remaining hope for some relief for hungry children who face dim prospects for lives of abundance if their early years are compromised by childhood hunger."
House members were also implored not make additional cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as Food Stamps.
Healthful child nutrition and food for families and individuals living in poverty are equal responsibilities in a society where resources are abundant and the common good is our aim. They are not competing objectives; rather they are worthy and complementary expressions of a national commitment to care for our neighbors. We urge you to find ways to restore cuts to the SNAP program as earnestly as our religious convictions move us to press for your action to pass this bill for the benefit of our children."
The full text of the letter can be downloaded at www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/childnutritionletter.pdf.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
Increase In Poverty Impacts Children, Families
The U.S. Census Bureau, as expected, announced today that poverty levels had grown to their highest level since 1994. "There were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase," said the Bureau. These numbers reflect the first year of the Obama presidency and the height of the Great Recession. The presidency of George W. Bush, whose economic policies were in full effect when President Obama took office, saw increases in the poverty rate during each year of his tenure in office after declines during the Clinton-Gore administration.
These numbers reflect real human suffering and a moral crisis faced by our nation. Economic policies that have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and those living in poverty have pushed our nation to the brink of economic collapse. Only President Obama's stimulus plan kept America from falling off the cliff.
Obviously, more needs to be done. President Obama ran on a pledge to cut poverty in half in ten years. The Half in Ten Campaign - endorsed by the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Center for American Progress, among others - offers a road map on how to achieve that goal. We need the President's forceful advocacy to help dramatically reduce poverty in America. Sadly, the minority party in Congress has worked to advance the failed economic policies of the Bush Administration and have promised to extend those policies if given the opportunity.
Thursday morning the federal government is expected to announce the biggest increase in poverty levels since 1959. Oregonians are feeling the pinch. "Due to extraordinary community need, we opened up our family shelter earlier than expected this week. We were full within the first 3 hours. By the end of the day there were already 6 families on the waiting list," said The Rev. Kate Lore, Minister for Social Justice at First Unitarian Church. "This has never happened before--not even close." First Unitarian Church hosts the Thirteen Street Family Center, a program of Portland Homeless Families Solution.
Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury noted the increase in poverty levels and called on members of Oregon's Congressional delegation to push for additional federal assistance. "Without President Obama's stimulus plan we'd be in worse shape but we need Congress to act quickly to get additional funding for programs that help lift people out of poverty," said Kafoury. "To begin with, I call on members of our House and Senate delegations to endorse the Half in Ten Campaign (http://halfinten.org/) - the ambitious national effort to cut poverty in half in ten years. We've been cutting programs at the county level for ten years. Without federal help more families will become homeless."The Half and Ten Campaign Offers four principles for reducing poverty:
Promote Decent Work. People should work and work should pay enough to ensure that workers and their families can avoid poverty, meet basic needs, and save for the future.
Provide Opportunity for All. Children should grow up in conditions that maximize their opportunities for success; adults should have opportunities throughout their lives to connect to work, get more education, live in a good neighborhood, and move up in the workforce.
Ensure Economic Security. Americans should not fall into poverty when they cannot work or work is unavailable, unstable, or pays so little that they cannot make ends meet.
Help People Build Wealth. All Americans should have the opportunity to build assets that allow them to weather periods of flux and volatility, and to have the resources that may be essential to advancement and upward mobility.
Click here for additional information.
People of faith in the United States must hold the president and Congress accountable for addressing this growing crisis. No one should be forced to live a third world life in a first world country.
Read the story on the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ blog.
More bad news today on the economic front. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports:
The new Census figures are disappointing for the fifth year of an economic recovery —showing a significant decline in poverty for people over 65 but no significant decline in poverty for children or adults aged 18 to 64, and only a modest improvement in median income. In 2006, the poverty rate remained higher, and median income for non-elderly households remained $1,300 lower, than in 2001, when the last recession hit bottom. It is virtually unprecedented for poverty to be higher and the income of working-age households lower in the fifth year of a recovery than in the last year of the previous recession.
The new figures are the latest evidence that the economic growth of the past few years has been very uneven, with the gains concentrated among the highest-income Americans. Too many low- and middle-income families are not sharing in the gains. These figures are inconsistent with claims that the policies of recent years have produced an outstanding economic track record.
Number of Uninsured Children Climbs by 600,000
Perhaps of greatest concern, the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 2.2 million in 2006, and the number of uninsured children jumped by more than 600,000. The steady progress of recent years in reducing the number of uninsured children stalled in 2005 and began to reverse in 2006, in part because funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) grew scarcer.
This is particularly noteworthy because the President has vowed to veto legislation that the House and Senate passed (in different versions) that would resume progress in this area and shrink the number of uninsured children by 3 to 4 million. In addition, on August 17, the Administration unveiled a controversial new policy that would force many states to cut back their SCHIP programs, forcing up to several hundred thousand more children into the ranks of the uninsured. Today’s sobering data on the rising number of uninsured children should prompt the President to rethink his positions on children’s health insurance.
The President has promised to veto the legislation because the health care increase is paid for by a new tobacco tax. What does it say about our president that he would put big tobacco interests ahead of the health care needs of children?
Last week low-income working Americans finally got a raise when the federal minimum wage was increased after years of growing poverty levels. Pehaps no one was more responsible for this than The Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, the founder of Let Justice Roll, a project of the National Council of Churches, and the former general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. At a press conference held this week with Congressional leaders he said:
This is a good day, isn't it? After ten long years, America's low wage workers and families are getting a break. It's about time -- and Let Justice Roll is very glad to be part of it. Let Justice Roll is a nonpartisan coalition of over 90 faith-based, community-based, labor and business organizations united around one single goal -- working together to establish a living wage for all of our country's working people.
We have worked alongside many others to raise the minimum wage in a growing number of states -- Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia. We have worked in support of city and county-wide living wage ordinances. And we have worked in support of the federal legislation we celebrate today. All with one purpose: reaching a living wage for all of America's working people -- a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
We believe that a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.
With Martin Luther King, we believe, "There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American (worker) whether he (or she) is a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer."
And with the prophet Amos, we envision a renewed society wherein "justice rolls down like living waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream." That is the very definition of a good and decent society.
Yes, today is a good day. But, even as we celebrate, we know that we have a long way to go if justice is to be done for America's low wage working people.
Even at $7.25 an hour in 2009, the minimum wage, in inflation adjusted dollars, will be more than $2 below what it was in the year 1968 -- four decades ago. We do have a long way to go.
In the meantime, low wage working families will continue to struggle mightily with the ever increasing costs of health care, housing, education, and so much else.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was established, way back in 1938, the Act was designed "to eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency and general well-being of workers." The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, called for a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. How far we are from those noble and visionary goals. We do have a long way to go.
A just minimum wage is not only ethically right; it is also economically right. A just minimum wage is good for workers. A just minimum wage is good for business and the economy. Speaking of business, nearly 800 business owners and executives representing every state in the nation have signed a statement endorsing a minimum wage increase at www.businessforafairminimumwage.org.
A just minimum wage is good for our common future. So, we dare not and we will not cease our efforts until all working people receive a living wage.
Let Justice Roll will work, along with many others, in support of future federal legislation to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We will work in support of minimum wage legislation at the state level and for living wage ordinances at the local and state level -- places like Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
We will continue to make the case that raising the minimum wage is a central moral and economic issue of our time. Morality demands that a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.
Yes this is a good day, a day to celebrate. On this day, even as we celebrate, let us look forward to an even better day. A day when all working people will receive a truly living wage -- a wage that will give all of America's families a decent standard of living. On that day, justice will roll down like living waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Let's do it!
Congratulations to all who worked hard for this victory. Now let's all get back to work. My friend Rev. Sherry is right that we still have along way to go.
Hundreds of religious activists gathered today at the state capitol in Salem, Oregon to press legislators to support new efforts to increase health insurance benefits, to build affordable housing and to reign in pay-day predatory lenders.
“Interfaith Advocacy Day” was sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) and interfaith groups from across the state. It was a pleasure for me to be there with so many friends.
Click here to view EMO’s legislative priorities on their newly expanded website.
For on-going coverage and analysis of the legislative session be sure to visit the blog of Dr. Russ Dondero, professor emeritus in the department of politics and government at UCC-related Pacific University. It was no surprise to find him today roaming the capitol rallying support for affordable housing.
Interfaith Advocacy Day. 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. beginning at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 700 Marion St. NE, Salem, then progressing to the state Capitol. Come and join people from many faiths to advocate for “Family and Community Stability: A Value for All Oregonians,” focusing on affordable housing, accessible healthcare and elimination of hunger. Confirmed speakers include Michael Anderson, Housing Alliance; Rabbi Michael Cahana, Congregation Beth Israel; Rep. Dave Hunt; Patti Whitney Wise, Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force; and Lisa Wenzlick, St. Luke Lutheran Church. Other invited speakers include Bruce Goldberg, MD, Oregon Department of Human Services, and Barbara Roberts, former Oregon governor. Sponsors include Sponsors include Ainsworth United Church of Christ; Albina Ministerial Alliance; the American Jewish Committee; Atkinson Memorial Church; Augustana Lutheran Church; Bilal Mosque Association; Bread for the World; Bridge City Friends Meeting, Peace & Social Concerns Committee; Care to Share; Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ; Church of Scientology, Portland; Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; Episcopal Peace and Justice Commission; Family Bridge; First Congregational United Church of Christ, Salem; First United Methodist Church, Portland; First Unitarian Church, Hunger Action Group; Fish Emergency Services; Fremont United Methodist Church; HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) Emergency Food Pantry; Interfaith Action for Justice of Central Oregon; Interfaith Council of Greater Portland; Interfaith Disabilities Network of Oregon; Inter-Religious Action Network of Washington County; Islamic Society of Greater Portland; Jewish Family and Child Service; Jewish Federation of Greater Portland; Jubilee Oregon; Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Oregon; Northwest Portland Ministries; Oregon Center for Christian Values; Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger; Oregon Farm Worker Ministry; Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop’s Initiative to Eliminate Hunger; Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Portland Jobs with Justice, Faith Labor Committee; Presbytery of the Cascades, Peacemaking Unit; St. Luke Lutheran Church; St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Peace and Justice Commission; St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church; SnowCap; Society of St. Vincent de Paul; Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Beaverton; Tualatin United Methodist (Hilltop) Church; and Valley Community Presbyterian Church, Portland. Groups from congregations and community organizations are encouraged to participate. The registration fee is $15 and includes lunch and materials. Download registration form. Call (503) 221-1054 for more information.
I’m looking forward to participating.
Today over 1,000 religious leaders from across the United States (including this blogging minister from Oregon) delivered a letter to Congress calling for an increase in the minimum wage.
Let Justice Roll reports:
Washington, DC -- Let Justice Roll, a nonpartisan coalition of ninety faith and community organizations, today sent a letter to members of Congress signed by more than 1,000 Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders from across the country. Anticipating House debate on minimum wage this Wednesday, Jan. 10, faith leaders urge congressional support for The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (HR 2), which would increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 from the $5.15 level set in 1997.
"As people of faith, we believe there is no better way to urgently address the poverty that afflicts so many low-wage working people and their families than by raising the minimum wage," said Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, National Coordinator of Let Justice Roll and co-author of "A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future." Sherry added, "A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it. That conviction is at the very heart of the faith we proclaim."
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said, "We seek a just community for all people. We are a decade late in even beginning to raise the minimum wage toward a living wage. We call on Congress to remember the least among us, and raise the minimum wage without any further delay."
In December, the nation broke the record for the longest period in history -- more than nine years -- without a minimum wage raise, while Congress's ninth pay raise since 1997 is scheduled to take effect in February. Today, a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour makes an unconscionable $10,712 annually. Although worker productivity and corporate profits are both way up, the buying power of today's minimum wage is lower than it was in 1950.
As the faith leaders' letter states, "The strong victory on all the minimum wage ballot initiatives is evidence that there is strong and widespread support from Americans for a prompt, clean minimum wage increase at the federal level."
Click here to see the list of religious leaders who have endorsed the letter.
Better yet: take action and call Congress on Tuesday, January 9th and tell your member to support The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (HR 2). Click here for all the information you need to make that call.
As an advocate for those in our state living in poverty, I applaud Governor Ted Kulongoski’s budget proposal. Contained in the budget are increases in funding for affordable housing projects targeted to support homeless Oregonians, new measures to support those with mental illnesses, expansion of health care insurance programs for children, and increased funding for public education. All these proposals will promote the common good in Oregon. The Legislature should both support and build on the Governor’s budget proposal to do everything possible to decrease poverty and increase opportunity in Oregon.
In case you missed it the Bush Administration ended hunger in America last week.
How did they do it?
By eliminating the word "hunger" from the annual federal report meant to document the number of people going without food in the United States. People suffering hunger are now classified as "food insecure." Hunger, now says the Bush administration, is not a "scientifically quantifiable term."
At least 35 million Americans could not always find food for their tables this past year. Don't you wish the president had to visit with each and every one of them to explain why they weren't really hungry after all?
Once the president has an answer down we might invite him to talk with the nearly half million senior citizens whose food programs he is planning to eliminate for this coming year so that money will be left over to pay for tax cuts for the richest of the rich in America.
God demands that we take take care of the least of these. What the president proposes on these issues would seem to fly contrary to what God wants us to do as God's people.
There would seem to be no question that the president is a great sinner unconcerned with the will of God. But will our response to his failures be any better?
What can we do to reach out to help those in need and to change the conditions in America that allow poverty, homelessness and poverty to flourish?
We can start by joining up with Bread for the World, the Christian anti-poverty agency, that is engaged with these issues through advovacy and public education. Check them out.