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.

Advocating for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform

Posted on April 18, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This week, several ELCA bishops, pastors and leaders were in Washington, D.C., for the Lutheran Immigration Leadership Summit, hosted by our partners at Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service. The group visited more than 100 offices on Capitol Hill and the White House, advocating for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

To read more about the summit, check out Linda Hartke’s (the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) blog by clicking here or on the photograph below.

The Rev. Michael Wilker and Bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, the Rev. Richard Graham, meet with the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski

The Rev. Michael Wilker and Bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, the Rev. Richard Graham, meet with the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski









SNAP in South Dakota

Posted on April 11, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By the Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen, OMG: Center for Theological Conversation in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 824,082 people called South Dakota home in 2011.

In the last four years, the number of people receiving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly referred to as Food Stamps — has increased from 63,655 in July of 2008 to 104,279 in July of 2012 (the last month on record). Not only do these numbers indicate that 12.65 percent — more than one in eight! — of my state’s population draw on food stamps for their daily bread, they also show that the need for assistance has increased 63.8 percent over the last four years.

These are shocking statistics.

Earlier this year, during an offering of letters at our church, our family wrote letters to our members of Congress, asking them to please retain funding for this key program. Our 8-year-old daughter put her own crayon to paper too, and sent off her request that our officials protect hungry children by protecting SNAP from budget cuts. While we were pleased that our daughter received a response from our Representative, we were stunned at what that letter told her. “Loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead [sic] to federal spending on SNAP to increase by 270 percent over the past ten years.”

My husband, an economist, and I, a theologian, were dumbfounded, not least of all because of our respective disciplines.

Based on both economic and basic moral grounds, this assertion couldn’t be more wrong.

December 2007 to June 2009 marked the greatest recession since the Great Depression, an economic event that clearly parallels the increase in families supported by SNAP. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities there is almost no fraud in this program. Since 2008, despite obvious increase in SNAP benefits, the overpayment rate of 4 percent was reduced to 3 percent in 2011 (the last year on record); the underpayment rate went from 1 percent to 0.9 percent; the combined error rate in 2011 was only 3.8 percent; and the overpayment rates are counted as errors even when recouped. 

I wonder if our officials are aware that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office points out that one-fifth of the increase in SNAP monies from 2007-2011 comes from the temporary allowance of higher benefits through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and that higher costs of food and lower earned wages during the recession play a key role in the difference?

I also hope our officials realize that a wide range of religious leaders have converged from various traditions in a coalition called the Circle of Protection. They consider support of SNAP among its core commitments. These leaders and faith groups include our own church, the ELCA, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, Bread for the World, the National Council of Churches, the Salvation Army, World Vision and a long list of additional Christian clergy leaders from other traditions across the spectrum. The Jewish community, in a variety of forms, also advocates for SNAP, as does the Muslim community.

The inaccurate statement in the letter our daughter received back from Capitol Hill insults more than one-eighth of South Dakota constituents by suggesting that the primary reason for the increase to SNAP is because of loopholes in the system (loopholes which are then exploited), and fraud from the recipients. 

SNAP is part of the Farm Bill because it is not only a nutritional assistance program; it is also an agricultural assistance program. Feeding hungry people also means feeding farmers, by way of compensating them for their hard work in the fields and on the farms.

We have farmers in South Dakota. We have hungry people in South Dakota. 

I urge our officials in Washington, D.C., to protect SNAP from harmful cuts that would hurt farmers and the poor, not only in South Dakota, but across our nation.

Poverty, policy and the classroom

Posted on April 3, 2013 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Erin Ryono Wener

Erin Ryono Werner

By Erin Ryono Werner

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
 – Paulo Freire

I became a high school English teacher because I believe in the strength of words. Reading moves students to live lives beyond their own. Writing empowers them. I echo the words of Carlos Fuente: “Writing is a struggle against silence.”

Yet, I realize that this is not the classroom many students experience. I remember a hip hop song from my high school days: “Man that school *$%t is a joke. The same people who control the school system control the prison system, and the whole social system. Ever since slavery, know what I’m sayin’?” I didn’t really know what they were saying, but I think I understand a little better now. To some, the classroom is a harbinger of freedom and a better life; to others, it is a bolster of cyclical poverty.

As I consider Lutheran advocacy in the fight against poverty and hunger, I can’t help but picture the classroom. I believe school has the potential to be a great equalizer, and in creative ways, the church can help.

We can continue to support successful programs.

About 40 percent of the children in our school district in Oregon receive free and reduced lunch and breakfast. Kids come to class, for the most part, with full stomachs. In Central Oregon, the Family Access Network, which is primarily federally funded and based in schools, ensures that children receive medical care, school supplies, clothing and rent assistance.

Other programs are at risk and need our help.

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children from low-income families. Parents who cannot afford preschool send their kids to Head Start so that they might be on an even playing field with their more privileged peers. Under sequestration (and even alternative budget proposals), this program is facing devastating budget cuts — budget cuts that would deepen inequalities long present in our country.

We must defend programs that benefit those already at a gross disadvantage and partner with them in creative ways.

Our congregation, Nativity Lutheran, realized that our building sat vacant for the majority of the week, so in 2010 we opened the education wing to the struggling Head Start Program. A member of our community recognized the weekend nutrition gap for students receiving free and reduced lunch. Every week, her organization sends out hundreds of backpacks full of food for students to take home. We must urge our public officials to prioritize these programs that replace poverty with opportunity for our students. 

We are called to reach out to all people with the love of Jesus Christ. In creative ways, policy and outreach can synthesize to do just that. I’m in the classroom every day, so I’ll start there. Where will you begin?