Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

Sick and Tired of Rising Gas Prices

Posted on April 27, 2011 by Jodi Slattery
Photo at http://www.1happilyevenafter.com

Do you feel like you're paying an arm and a leg when you fill up?

I don’t know about you, but the price at the gas pump is certainly hurting my pocketbook. I am sick and tired of paying over $50 each time I have to fill up. Quite frankly, I could use a break. In fact, I wouldn’t mind getting one of those tax breaks that the oil and gas companies get every year.

Our current tax law provides the oil and gas industry with more than $4 billion (yes billion) per year in subsidies. Why are they getting such high subsidies when oil prices are high and the industry is projected to report huge profits this quarter?

House Speaker John Boehner said on Monday that Congress should consider looking at the oil subsidies. President Obama, in a letter to Congressional leaders, wrote he was “heartened” to hear such openness. But shortly afterward, Boehner seemed to backtrack his statements.

Both political parties have talked about the need to make difficult cuts in the federal budget. We look at cutting non-defense discretionary spending, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, military spending. Why would we not look at subsidies to oil companies? What makes them exempt from cuts?

But I also wonder if instead of cutting the subsidies, we should take those dollars and invest them in clean energy to reduce our dependence on our planet’s dwindling stores of oil. We need to look at protecting our environment for future generations as well as finding a way to reduce our dependence.

And, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind lower gas prices.

The people we meet along the way

Posted on April 25, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Guest Blog by Krista Zimmerman, International Policy Analyst of Lutheran World Relief

Young Internationally Displaced Person from Sudan

A young IDP whose family fled violence along the Sudan-DRC border. She is working on a handicraft project to help support her family in its new home. Photo Credit: Krista Zimmerman

Travel is something I enjoy.  So when my work for Lutheran World Relief took me to Sudan, I was grateful for the opportunity.

Although some aspects of the trip were uncomfortable and stressful, I was always aware that I journeyed far from home by choice – and that the same could not be said for many of the people I met along the way.

I traveled to a remote corner of Sudan, near its borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, by road.  My guide was a local Catholic priest.

Reports of armed conflict in the area initially delayed our departure as the priests contacted sources on the ground to ensure the situation was stable. When we finally left, we were relieved to be on our way, but also a bit nervous about the situation into which we were traveling.

Several hours into the trip we started to see empty villages and abandoned fields. The few people we encountered traveled in groups and were armed with spears or hand made knives. 

On the road we stopped and talked with women carrying bundles of food on their heads.  They told us they fled their village the night before to resettle on the outskirts of an army encampment several miles away.  They had returned to their homes to procure food and were anxious to return to camp before dusk.  They planned to spend their nights close to soldiers while they waited to hear if there would be more violence.

Sudanese Family

A mother and her son who were uprooted from their home in southern Sudan as a result of LRA violence. They were traveling to the town of Yambio to seek shelter there. Photo Credit: Krista Zimmerman

We also encountered a young mother and her baby boy, Richard. They aimed to get to town before nightfall, where they hoped things would be safer.

Our travel companions fled as a result of attacks attributed to the Lord’s Resistance Army – an armed force, originally from Uganda, that has plagued East Africa for years.  But they are not the only displaced persons in or from Sudan.

Lutherans provide support to a refugee camp in Kenya that houses about 18,000 refugees from Sudan. Many hail from south Sudan states where thousands died as a result of tribal clashes last year.  Needless to say, the death toll deters them from returning home.

Southern Sudan is supposedly at peace but the UN is making plans for up to 40,000 new refugees from the area.  Continued insecurity, unchecked poverty and a volatile political climate continue to force or keep many Sudanese from their homes.

For these reasons, and many others, Lutherans are actively working to encourage U.S. support for peace and continued development in southern Sudan – and are being successful in their efforts.

Last year, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution (S. Res. 404) calling on the United States Government to increase its efforts to assist the Government of South Sudan and to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.  It also encouraged the President and other international leaders to strategize and develop contingency plans for all eventualities – and to focus on long term development in the region.

Connect with Your State Public Policy Office

Posted on April 20, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

In Wisconsin, legislators are considering cutting state funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven anti-poverty initiative. The Colorado legislature is poised to cut health care funding for low-income children. In California, another round of funding cuts to K-12 education is being debated. And in New Mexico, funding for a state nutrition program for low-income seniors was just eliminated.

Similar state budget cuts are taking place all across the United States.

Christ Lutheran and Minnesota State Capitol

Minnesota's State Capitol Building and Christ Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo Credit: Mark Peters, director, Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota

In state capitols around the country, elected officials are required by law to balance their budgets. Unfortunately states are choosing to cut funding for key human needs’ programs due to decreased state tax revenues from the recession.

This current round of cuts for state-funded social programs comes on top of deep cuts already made over the last few years. Alarmingly, at the exact time states have been cutting funding for essential services, the need for these programs has risen as more and more families seek assistance due to unemployment and stagnant wages.

The ELCA has long recognized the importance of decisions made by state legislatures. Our State Public Policy Office (SPPO) network works to ensure that the needs of the country’s most vulnerable people are given high priority in state capitols.

The State Public Policy Offices speak to the biblical values of hospitality to strangers, care for creation, and concern for people living in poverty and struggling with hunger and disease. We encourage you to connect with your State Public Policy Office and advocate for just state policies for people in need. To see a list of our SPPOs and to learn more, click here.

Remembrance of the Gulf Oil Spill

Posted on April 18, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Oiled Brown Pelican upon intake May 20, 2010 at Fort Jackson, Louisiana Oiled Wildlife Center. (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

Oiled Brown Pelican upon intake May 20, 2010 at Fort Jackson, Louisiana Oiled Wildlife Center. (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

This week, as we pause to remember Christ’s death on the cross and the redemption and hope of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, we also mark another anniversary. 

On April 20, 2010 an oil explosion killed 11 people in the Gulf of Mexico and erupted into one of the worst man-made disasters our nation has ever faced.  By the time British Petroleum (BP) managed to cap the oil well located below the Deepwater Horizon rig, more than four million barrels of oil had gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. 

This week we remember our horror at the lives lost, our grief as the oil continuously poured from the broken well to devastate beaches, wetlands and wildlife. We remember the months of waiting—for the well to be capped, for the oil to disperse, for the fisheries to reopen, for damages to be figured and repaid to the suffering people, businesses and communities in the Gulf.

And now, at the one year anniversary, we look for signs of hope: 

  • The tourist industry is anticipating a “modest” increase this summer in the number of vacationers returning to Gulf Coast beaches. 
  • The oil on the surface dissipated more quickly than anticipated and the Gulf has shown greater resilience in the wake of the disaster than was expected.  However, scientists believe much of the oil remains below the surface, and long term impacts on sea life and Gulf fisheries will not be known for years.
  • Following the disaster, the Department of Interior reorganized the Minerals Management Service and divided the responsibility for issuing and monitoring offshore drilling permits and for collecting revenues, which had previously been housed in a single department. 
  • The National Commission on the BP Horizon Oil Spill finished its work and issued a final report with recommendations in January 2011. 
  • The Gulf Coast Claims Facility funded by BP has paid out nearly $4 billion in damages and compensation to more than 175,000 people and businesses, although complaints about the amount of compensation paid and the rate at which claims are processed persist among those applying for funds.

What’s missing from this list?  The United States Congress.

Congress has yet to pass any legislation to deal with the flawed system that allowed this disaster to occur or to deal with the likelihood that many years of funding will be needed to fully deal with the impacts on the Gulf ecosystem and its fisheries. Bills proposed by Gulf State legislators and others to make both small and large changes in response to the Gulf oil disaster have failed to move, victims of the gridlock that more often than not derails legislative action in Washington.

We encourage you to remind your Congressperson to support legislation to fix flaws in our oil leasing and oil spill response systems and to provide a means to fund long term restoration of the Gulf ecosystem and fisheries.

If your congregation would like to mark the anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster, either during this week or in the weeks to come, the National Council of Churches has prayers and stories from the Gulf that can help. Click here to access the NCC resource.

Why the Federal Budget Matters

Posted on April 12, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Click on the links below to view two short YouTube videos from policy directors in the ELCA Advocacy Ministry.

Jennifer De Leon, Advocacy Director for Lutheran Advocacy in Illinois, on YouTube

Andrew Genszler, ELCA Advocacy Director, on YouTube

Supporting the Clean Air Act

Posted on April 6, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

The state of our air, land and water is at stakeRecently, ELCA Bishop John Schleicher of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod wrote to the Saginaw (MI) News explaining why, as a person of faith, he supports the Clean Air Act and why, as a church, the ELCA cares about environmental issues. 

He writes, “[t]he ELCA has long lifted up the care of God’s creation as an important component of our reverence and gratitude toward God, and our love and service to those in need. We see this as a moral and justice-laden responsibility, undertaken with humility and hope.” Read the rest of Bishop Schleicher’s letter here.

This week some members of Congress are trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new rules for industrial sources under the Clean Air Act.  These rules are designed to deal with emissions that are contributing to climate change and poor air quality in our communities. 

The Clean Air Act has made our communities cleaner and safer and has protected our health for more than 40 years. But today we face new challenges such as climate change and rising rates of asthma in our children.

As we face these new challenges, laws like the Clean Air Act are there to help us meet them and develop new technologies for protecting the health of our communities. 

Critics argue the new regulations will harm the bottom line of companies and cost jobs.   This argument is based on the premise that we must choose between economic growth and the health of our communities, a premise that has proven false many times over the 40 year history of the Clean Air Act. 

From scrubbers on power plant smokestacks to catalytic converters on cars, innovations spurred by Clean Air Act regulations have created new business opportunities while allowing industry throughout our nation to thrive.  But even more importantly, our air is cleaner and our people are healthier because of the Clean Air Act.

Willingly Giving Up Food

Posted on April 5, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

I have only been fasting for a week, but have you noticed we are surrounded by food? It’s available for purchase on myJodi Slattery Deike, director for grassroots advocacy and communication, ELCA Washington Office commute to work, laying out in the kitchen at work, sold by street vendors and advertised on television constantly. Food is tempting us everywhere. It’s no wonder I struggle with my weight.

The point of my fasting, however, is not to lose weight. It’s to participate in a larger effort to bring awareness to federal budget cuts — cuts that would have a devastating impact on poor people everywhere. The sad part is that deep cuts to such non-discretionary spending will have little to no effect on balancing the budget.

I’ve never fasted before and I have learned through this discipline how much food controls me. I now better understand why someone might steal a piece of fruit from a street vendor just to have something in their stomachs to get them through the day.

Most of us can get three meals a day, even if the amount of food isn’t much, it’s more than some people. I can break my fast if I had to, but people who are hungry can’t just start eating again. They have to wait for enough money, an open food pantry or community kitchen to receive a meal.

Along with my fasting, most importantly, I’m praying. I’m praying for our government and our brothers and sisters everywhere who are struggling. I’m praying together, with God’s help, we can stop these proposed cuts that harm vulnerable people.

I encourage you to consider joining the fast in whatever way is most appropriate for you. Learn more at www.hungerfast.org.