from the ELCA advocacy office in Washington, D.C. – the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, Senior Director
Partial expanded content from Advocacy Connections: March 2023
DEBT CEILING: The U.S. Treasury Department could default on its debt as early as June without congressional action, as the United States will exhaust its ability to pay all its bills unless the current $31.4 trillion cap on borrowing is raised or suspended. ELCA advocacy staff are very focused on several important fronts that impact hungry and vulnerable communities as debt ceiling debate develops.
In coalition with both Circle of Protection, a coalition of church bodies and related ministries representing the diversity of Christianity in the United States, and interfaith colleagues, we are receiving briefings and updates on the potential impact to poverty reduction programs should Congress fail to raise the current debt ceiling. A Feb. 27 letter from Circle of Protection leaders to President Biden and members of the 118th Congress said: “The priority we assign to reducing poverty and hunger is controversial but reflects values that are based in our Scriptures – passages such as Psalm 20:7 on trusting God rather than iron chariots, Isaiah 2:4 on beating swords into plowshares, and Matthew 25:31-46 about how God judges nations according to their response to people who are hungry and in need.”
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION GENDER PROGRESS REPORT: The White House Gender Policy Council released its first progress report to the president on its 2021 National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality.
International program highlights include: expansion of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Engendering Industries program which advances gender equality in male-dominated industries around the world; launch of new USAID gender-based violence prevention and response programs and tools in northern Central America to promote human rights, justice, equity and equality; and launch by the State Department and USAID of the Safe from the Start ReVisioned initiative, expanding gender-based violence prevention, risk mitigation, response efforts and empowering women and girls in crisis-affected countries. The Safe from the Start Act has been a gender justice priority for the ELCA.
INFLATION REDUCTION ACT: The Inflation Reduction Act is the largest investment in climate solutions in U.S. history. It includes provisions to promote the transition to renewable energy for individuals and for institutions, and it has a large focus on environmental justice for communities most-affected by climate change.
Among provisions, the Inflation Reduction Act could as written specifically benefit “state, local and Tribal governments, as well as nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt entities”. While most assistance in the Inflation Reduction Act comes in the form of tax credit, this provision allows for tax-exempt entities to receive “direct pay” as incentives for their climate-friendly investments into their communities. There have been calls on both sides of the aisle (examples here and here) for oversight of the distribution of these funds.
Although additional information for federal funding for energy work to guide congregations was anticipated in Feb. 2023, right now the clearest guidance is still more broad as available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION ASYLUM POLICY CHANGES: The Biden Administration is using the federal rulemaking process to usher drastic changes to U.S. asylum policy ahead of the anticipated end of Title 42, on May 11. Adopting this rule would have severe consequences on people fleeing persecution and violence. Detrimental impact on children and families, Black persons, Indigenous persons and gender-based violence survivors seeking refuge could result.
Through the new proposed rule titled “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways,” the administration seeks to impose a “presumption of asylum ineligibility” for asylum seekers unless they received parole prior to arrival, presented themselves at a port of entry at a pre-scheduled time and place, or sought protection and were denied protection in a country en route to the United States. Your public comments on the proposed rule can urge withdrawal of the proposal – see our Action Alert for details. Many have spoken out. ELCA Witness in Society staff attended a rally organized by the Welcome With Dignity Campaign and Interfaith Immigration Coalition at the White House, cautioning against severe restrictions on those seeking asylum due to the way people came to or enter the United States.
HOUSING APPROPRIATIONS: ELCA Witness in Society staff met with congressional staff in February and March discussing housing and homeless investment needs in the fiscal 2024 federal budget (FY24), as intent to find new cuts in discretionary spending this year has been expressed by several members of the House.
With rents and housing costs continuing to rise in many areas across the United States this year, any serious cut to Housing and Urban Development programs this year could result in a new wave of evictions, homelessness and housing insecurity. ELCA Witness in Society staff will likely be planning an Action Alert around housing needs in the budget as the president prepares to release his budget proposal to Congress in early March.