Lutherans are taking action across the country! Below you will find our monthly State Advocacy Newsletter. Share with your friends!
Washington, D.C. – Amy Reumann, Director of Advocacy
CENTRAL AMERICA BLOG SERIES: Gettysburg seminarians traveled to Honduras and Guatemala earlier this year to better understand the conditions driving so many Central Americans to leave their communities. Several of the students shared their experiences with ELCA Advocacy in a three-part blog series released last month. Each entry highlights something the author learned when they met individuals from communities the ELCA accompanies or is in relationship with. These reflections show the amazing power that individuals have to move from accompaniment to action by walking and advocating alongside affected communities. Help share the series now on the ELCA Advocacy Blog!
PRESSURE BUILDS ON FLINT, MICH: After months of divisive debate, members of Congress are still working to pass legislation to provide emergency aid for Flint, Mich. Flint’s residents have spent nearly three years dealing with lead contamination in their water. The U.S. Senate at the beginning of May proposed substantial federal funding for Flint in the draft Water Resources Development Act. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s, R-Okla., bill would enable federal resources to help Flint fix its failing water infrastructure and assist other cities facing similar crises. ELCA Advocacy sent an action alert on Flint in early May as President Obama was visiting the city, but action is still needed to prompt Congress to act. Take action now!
SOUTHEAST SYNOD LAUNCHES NEW ADVOCACY OFFICE: The Southeast Synod celebrated the opening the newest ELCA state public policy office during Southeast Synod Assembly in May. John Johnson, ELCA program director for domestic policy, was invited to make the announcement during Bishop Julian Gordy’s synod address. The Southeast Synod Advocacy Office will receive an initial grant of $30,000 to begin the coordinating work of this first regional (states include Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama) to address hunger and poverty and to equip ELCA members for advocacy.
New York, NY – Dennis Frado, Lutheran Office for World Community
LUTHERAN PARTICIPATION IN HIV and AIDS “LOBBY WEEK”: In preparation for the High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS (June 8-10), members of the United Nations are negotiating the text of the “2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS.” Every five years this declaration, outlining a political framework for ending the AIDS epidemic, is drafted and considered by the members. From May 16 to May 20, the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC) participated in a civil society-led “Lobby Week” to ensure that key components of the AIDS response are included in the document. These components include: the inclusion of “key populations” (men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users, transgender people and prisoners), using sex education as a tool for HIV prevention, and integrating sexual and reproductive health into the AIDS response. During the week, LOWC met with a number of governments that are providing forward-thinking leadership in these negotiations and reminded them of the HIV-related statements and positions of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance – a global network of churches of which the ELCA is a member. This culminated in LOWC Program Associate Nicholas Jaech making a formal intervention on behalf of the alliance at a U.N. briefing on the declaration. LOWC will continue to follow the negotiations and will participate in the AIDS and HIV meeting.
BRIEFING ON THE REFUGEE CRISIS IN ETHIOPIA: On May 19, Charlotte Mildenberger, a new program associate at LOWC, attended a meeting at the International Peace Institute addressing the refugee situation in Ethiopia. Speaking at this event was Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Ethiopia. She noted the grave situation in Ethiopia: As of April 30, the refugee population has risen to 734,931. This number includes refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and other nationalities. In addition, the number of unaccompanied minors and separated children is 38,422. There have been some strides in education of refugee children – a total of 153,589 (86,981 males and 66,608 females) have been enrolled in schools within and outside the refugee camps, marking an increase of 16 percent in the average gross enrollment rate from the same time last year. However, school attendance in some of the camps in Gambela showed a marked decrease during the fourth quarter of April following the recent security incidents in the region. LOWC will continue to monitor the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia at forums and briefings at the United Nations.
California – Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy
STATE BUDGET – Maximum Family Grant for TANF/CalWORKS: Efforts to eliminate the Maximum Family Grant rule, which prohibits additional aid for a baby born into a family currently receiving public assistance, are paying off. It appears the Legislative Budget Conference Committee will include elimination and send it to both houses for adoption by the budget deadline of June 15. The focus on Gov. Jerry Brown, who urged fiscal caution in his budget presentation (using Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper), is intensifying. An interfaith coalition, of which LOPPCA is a part, produced a short video, that includes ELCA Pastor Leslie Welton appealing to the governor and legislative leaders. The president pro tem of the Senate co-authored an op ed in the May 29 Sacramento Bee.
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: The 20th Annual Immigrant Day at the Capitol was May 23, and the legislative agenda included the Maximum Family Grant. Priorities included funding for naturalization assistance, health coverage for undocumented residents, improved transparency in local law enforcement, immigration and Customs enforcement deportation proceedings, and transparency in gang registries.
AB 2590, a bill sponsored by faith groups to place restorative justice principles in the penal code, passed the Assembly.
SYNOD ASSEMBLIES: LOPP-CA Director Mark Carlson will shuttle between the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in Reno and the Southwest California Synod Assembly in Los Angeles. Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada hosts an advocacy breakfast in Reno with the Chief Public Defender, while Mark has breakfast with the Southwest California Synod Justice Team and those interested in its work groups.
Colorado – Peter Severson, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry Colorado
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: The 70th Colorado General Assembly officially recessed on Wednesday, May 11. Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-Colorado priorities fared moderately well, with six of 12 bills supported by LAM-CO ending up on the governor’s desk and two bills we opposed dying in committee.
Our major late victories include SB 190, a bipartisan bill from the Joint Budget Committee that will improve public services, particularly food assistance programs, by incentivizing better administrative practices and hiring additional state-level staff to increase enrollment of eligible families. Another win was SCR 006, which will go on the fall ballot and ask Colorado voters to strike the exception to slavery and involuntary servitude from the state constitution (Article II, section 26). This resolution passed both chambers unanimously.
Unfortunately, several bills we supported did not cross the finish line, including HB 1388. The bill would have given ex-offenders a better shot at being hired, thereby reintegrating into society and reducing recidivism, by “banning the box,” which means removing the question about an applicant’s criminal history from an initial job application form.
COLORADO PRAYER LUNCHEON: Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop Jim Gonia and LAM-CO Director Peter Severson attended the Colorado Prayer Luncheon on May 19, alongside partners in ministry from Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains. Speakers included Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
CONGREGATIONAL VISITS: Recent advocacy visits by the director include Our Savior’s, Denver; Glory of God, Wheat Ridge; and Shepherd of the Mountains, Estes Park.
New Mexico – Ruth Hoffman, Lutheran advocacy Ministry New Mexico
The Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly was held in Loveland, Colo., the last weekend in April. Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico and Colorado presented a well-attended workshop. Issues and activities of both ministries were shared and discussed. Mikka McCracken with ELCA World Hunger was the ELCA representative at the assembly. Mikka’s presentation to the assembly, in which she gave a shout out to LAM-NM and LAM-CO, can be found here: https://vimeo.com/167437574
LAM-NM Director Ruth Hoffman was invited to a private roundtable in Albuquerque with federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau staff, including Director Richard Cordray. The roundtable was attended by leaders, advocates and attorneys who work to protect New Mexicans from predatory lending and foreclosures. Cordray and his staff were in New Mexico to announce proposed regulations to remove mandatory arbitration from loan and credit card contracts in order to allow class actions against lenders.
Pennsylvania – Tracey DePasquale, Interim-Director
On May 18, the ELCA and LAMPa announced the appointment of Tracey DePasquale as LAMPa’s new director. DePasquale had served as interim director since January, following the departure of the Rev. Amy Reumann to head the advocacy office in Washington, D.C. “I am both humbled and excited to be called to serve as LAMPa’s director,” DePasquale said. Read more.
LAMPa welcomes Kent Zelesky, a junior communications conflict resolution major at Juniata College, who is beginning a 10-week internship at LAMPa, focusing primarily on fair education funding. His first day saw a major victory, as the General Assembly passed a bill making permanent the funding formula for which we and partners had been advocating for two years. Now the work remains of securing adequate funding to run through the formula to undo the worst-in-the-nation disparities between wealthy and poor school districts. Kent will attend assemblies in the Allegheny, Northwestern and Southwestern Pennsylvania synods in the coming weeks. Read more about Kent.
Tracey connected with partners, including Policy Council member Annette Sample and synod Women of the ELCA President Joy Grace at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly, working together on federal child-nutrition and state human-trafficking legislation. She will teach at the Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly and meal-packing event in June, where the theme is “Hungry for Justice and Mercy.”
April’s “Stirring the Waters” event connecting a canoe trip, thanksgiving for baptism and environmental justice focus was followed up with a similar event by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod Creation Care Task Force.
Virginia – Kim Bobo, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Neill Caldwell, Communications Director
As part of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and its programs, Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare has increased efforts to get Virginia to take the $4.4 million daily federal Medicaid funding to close its health insurance coverage gap.
Members of the Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare team attended a hearing on May 25 at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which was called to evaluate the impact on Virginia residents of the proposed merger of health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna. A number of people testified, all but one of whom spoke in opposition to the proposed merger, which would reduce the choices consumers will have on health insurance coverage in the commonwealth.
Representatives of the Medical Society of Virginia and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association both spoke against the merger, noting the anti-competitive marketplace that would result in an already highly concentrated health insurance market in Virginia, where Anthem dominates.
Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare Director Karen Cameron testified, pointing out the narrowed networks and lack of consumer choice that would result from the merger would reduce access to quality, affordable health care for people across Virginia.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance still has to submit its report to the commission on the implications of the merger for the state’s health insurance market.
The Virginia Interfaith Center continues to prepare resources for its faith communities to use in organizing support for expanding health care and registering voters.
Washington – Paul Benz, Faith Action Network
ORGANIZING SUMMITS: Faith Action Network (FAN) is in the midst of its four regional organizing summits around our state, where FAN is doing something new: issue work groups! FAN has established four work groups in the areas of economic justice, criminal justice, environmental justice and health care. Each group now has convenors, and the economic justice group is focused on getting signatures for a minimum-wage initiative to qualify for the fall ballot. The intent is to organize and activate our advocates by the issue groups that they select at our summits. The goal is to increase FAN’s effectiveness in creating the change that we all desire for our state and nation.
CONGRESS: The two key issues before Congress that FAN is working on are supporting the Senate Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and opposing the child-nutrition bill in the House. The sentencing reform act is a bi-partisan effort to reduce mass incarceration by shortening sentences for low-level offenders. The child-nutrition bill in the House will roll back years of good work to increase access to nutritious meals year-round.
SUPPORT FOR OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS: FAN is involved in two on-going efforts to support the Muslim community in our state. One is to encourage congregations to post signs at their church that say: “Blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors” or “Love your (Muslim) neighbor as yourself.” The Minnesota Council of Churches has been an inspiration for this. The other is working with the Council on American Islamic Relations and local mosque leaders to negotiate an apology from the leader of an anti-Muslim campaign to keep a local mosque from being built. The response has seen amazing community support for the mosque. An ELCA congregation hosted a recent forum that had standing room only.
Wisconsin – Cindy Crane, Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin
IT IS SYNOD ASSEMBLY SEASON! In May, LOPPW was present at four synod assemblies. LOPPW led two workshops at two of the assemblies and had displays at each event.
SOUTH-CENTRAL SYNOD: (picture center-right) Bob Lindmeier, well-known television weatherman and member of the Care for God’s Creation/Hunger team (in partnership with LOPPW), co-led a workshop on climate change with Pastor Nick Utphall and Intern Kyle Kretschmann.
NORTHERN GREAT LAKES SYNOD: (picture far-right) Participants looking over LOPPW’s new resources on Money & Politics and human trafficking.
NORTHWEST SYNOD: (picture center-right) Bishop Rick Hoyme and Rev. Mara Ahles-Iverson took the pledge! Elizabeth helped hold the sign but needs to wait a few years to vote.
CONGRATULATIONS TO LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES of Wisconsin/Upper Michigan for its grant to offer a place for healing for youth victims of sex trafficking. LSS will receive a grant from part of the $2 million the state budgeted to help sex-trafficked youth in a rural area of Wisconsin. We appreciate everyone who advocated for this funding via our rally, in response to action alerts, and through our letter-writing campaigns. The state requested proposals several months ago, and LOPPW is are proud of LSS for being the agency chosen. LSS will manage a facility.