Thursday, June 16, 2016

We Shall Not Be Moved: Advocacy in the New Age of Voter Suppression



Find a Link to the Full Resource HERE 

Using this Resource

In this election year, it is more critical than ever to understand the mechanics of our democracy,  to reclaim the values and the promise of our electoral process. The right to vote is being restricted in many places, which raises questions for U.S. Reformed Christians about the meaning of our democracy. At the direction of the General Assembly, we at the Office of Public Witness have compiled resources to aid individual church members and congregations to look at these questions. We hope this discussion guide will prove a helpful template in your process of reflection and action.
This resource can be used individually, with a church study group or class, or as a source of sermon starters and ideas. We intend this guide to explore the links between our call to public witness as Presbyterians and our responsibility as Americans to demand free and fair elections. Unlike voting guides that simply list things to support or oppose, we summarize history and practice to show systemic patterns that need change.
We draw on U.S. history, Presbyterian Social Witness Policy, Scripture, and other resources to focus on the gradual and uneven recognition of members of minority groups as full voting members of society. While some of these matters can be challenging or frustrating, we have sought new ways to encourage real dialogue in our congregations and communities about the lasting impacts of segregation, and the ongoing struggles for equity for women, people of color, working people and those unable to work. In a polarized environment, we still affirm  the promise of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”—for all the people!

The Theme: Voter Suppression in the United States


In the 2008 PC (U.S.A.) Social Witness Policy Lift Every Voice, the Presbyterian Church called on this country to enforce the Voting Rights Act and to protect people and communities of color, women, the young, people with disabilities and the elderly from targeted purges of voting lists and other forms of disenfranchisement[1]. This policy equipped us with much needed prophetic language and practical ideas, yet in 2013, our country entered a new era of voter suppression marked by different tactics than in years past but yielding the same dangerous outcomes. The Supreme Court decision of Shelby vs. Holder in 2013 reinterpreted the Voting Rights Act, limiting the ability of the federal government to review new voting laws put in place by the states that jeopardize minority voters. Since that decision suspending “pre-clearance” review by the Justice Department, states have passed voting laws that have the practical effect of discriminating against minority communities.[2] In an already partisan political climate, voting rights themselves should not be a partisan issue. Rather, they are the very foundation of democracy, and if free and fair elections are under threat, then so too is our national identity. Recognizing this, the 2014 General Assembly called for the 2008 policy to be updated and for the Office of Public Witness to provide a resource for study and action.
Respect for the conscience of the individual anchors Presbyterian reverence for the right to vote for everyone. Public service is seen by us as a high calling, and government itself a servant and agent of the people, accountable to all citizens. Politics as public decision-making has an ethical purpose and benefits from laws that prevent corruption by special interests against the common good. Weakening the rights of citizenship for some and unfairly enhancing the power of others distort the practices and legitimacy of democracy. As a Reformed Christian church, understanding God’s covenant to have been opened by Jesus Christ even to “the least of these,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks to live out and witness to its values of love and justice in the public sphere.[3]
The systemic approach of denying minorities the right to vote has long been against our expressed ideals as Presbyterians. Beginning its post-war civil rights commitment in 1947, the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (PCUS) Assembly opposed all organizations and individuals who aim to hinder any minorities on the basis of creed, class or color. In 1956, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (the more national, “Northern” church) called upon Christians to work to eliminate the poll tax “and other restrictions which prevent many citizens from exercising their legal rights at the polls” (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1956, Part I, p.235; see also Minutes, PCUS, 1957, Part I, p.194). In 1965, the PCUS affirmed the historic Voting Rights Act saying, “The basic purpose of the civil rights movement should be to obtain for the Negro—and of course, for all minority groups—justice in affairs of daily life and the right to respect as human being under the redemptive concern of God. Jesus, by His words and life, calls us, as his followers, to support him in the struggle…” (Minutes, PCUS, 1965, Part I, p.159). These and other statements were not easy to make and are worth remembering as that struggle continues in new forms.
Because the issue of voting rights is so deeply tied to the history of racism in the US, this course of study is intrinsically connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s vision of becoming an antiracist community. This provides us with the theological, cultural and political framework for resisting oppression and working to overcome racism within our own life as well as in the broader society. It means combining social analysis, institutional reconstruction, and individual healing with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action. This resource does not address all of the dynamics that restrict electoral reform, including partisan redistricting (gerrymandering) and distortions caused by the electoral college and inaction by the Federal Election Commission. But it does look at shorter term remedies and potential legislation that could restore voter protections intended in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965.  We encourage readers to formulate your own ways of engaging this topic based on the realities of your congregations and communities, and to reach out to the Office of Public Witness if we can be of further assistance.

Find a Link to the Full Resource HERE 




[1] “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform” https://www.pcusa.org/resource/lift-every-voice-democracy-voting-rights-and-elect
[3] Here and elsewhere, this resource draws on language from the report to the 2016 General Assembly, “Election Protection and Integrity in Campaign Finance.” https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000045

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Presbyterian Church(USA) Signs on to Letter Opposing the Ayotte Amendments

June 8, 2016


Mitch McConnell                                                               Harry Reid 
Majority Leader                                                                 Minority Leader 
United States Senate                                                          United States Senate 
317 Russell Building                                                         522 Hart Building 
Washington, D.C. 20510                                                   Washington, D.C. 20002

Cc: Sens. Ayotte, Reed, Durbin, Cornyn, Leahy, Grassley


Dear Leaders McConnell and Reid,


On behalf of a coalition of groups working toward criminal justice reform, representing a nationwide, bipartisan-supported movement to achieve effective and just policy, we write to urge you to oppose S. AMDT. 4082 and S. AMDT. 4083 to S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017 (“NDAA”). These amendments that are sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (RNH), and would widen the net of persons who could receive a mandatory minimum sentence for possessing or distributing the substance fentanyl. The Ayotte Amendments seek to increase the mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for the substance fentanyl, by decreasing the threshold amount for which mandatory sentences are triggered. Our country has begun to change course on its criminal justice policy, recognizing that mandatory minimum sentencing requirements have done little to protect the health of American citizens or promote the safety of our communities. Instead, mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in persons convicted of nonviolent drug offenses receiving disproportionate prison sentences, including life sentences. We believe the Ayotte Amendments represent a step backward toward ineffective policy that fails to direct resources wisely, and their passage must be prevented.

Fentanyl is a synthetic, rapid-acting opiate analgesic, commonly added to heroin to increase its potency. Because fentanyl is hundreds of times more powerful than heroin,(1) individuals high on the international supply chain of heroin trafficking are incentivized to strengthen a diluted product. (2) This process, whereby fentanyl is added to heroin, most often occurs before the product reaches the United States. (3)  When this occurs, street-level sellers (and consequently buyers) are often unaware of the makeup of their product and its potency.(4)

The Ayotte Amendments, in their attempt to extend punishments to low-level users and sellers, would subject individuals who suffer from opioid use disorders to lengthy sentences originally intended for large-scale traffickers. Under these amendments, a mere 0.5-20 grams of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl or an analogue of fentanyl would trigger mandatory minimum sentences of 5, 10, 20 years or even life without parole. These small amounts could be intended for personal use and possession rather than trafficking – increasing fentanyl penalties would result in the perpetuation of a public health crisis and the reversal of the work that has been done thus far in shifting our nation’s response to drug use toward public health instead of harsh incarceration.

We recognize the growing challenges around heroin in many communities, with an increasing number of overdose deaths attributed to the presence of fentanyl.5 The government must indeed respond to this crisis; however, in order to truly save lives and promote public safety, this response must be rooted in evidence-based practices. Mandatory minimum sentences have existed for heroin and fentanyl since 1986,6 yet these sentencing policies have done nothing to prevent or address the current crisis. The Ayotte Amendments would commit a grave error by allocating further resources toward sentencing requirements that have proven to be ineffective.

Fentanyl punishments are already harsher than those for heroin – current law requires far less fentanyl than heroin to trigger the mandatory minimum sentences designated in 21 U.S.C. §841. The Ayotte Amendments would exacerbate an already tenuous policy – the drug quantities for both heroin and fentanyl outlined in §841 are not themselves based in science or expert testimony, but rather were picked at random in an election year during an era of lawmakers being “tough-on-crime.”

Senator Ayotte has expressed the desire to “improve efforts to get this drug off the streets and appropriately prosecute those individuals and organizations who are profiting off of it.”7 The Ayotte Amendments would not achieve this, but would rather incarcerate low-level distributors and individuals who struggle with addiction. In a time when nearly 1 in 100 Americans is incarcerated8 and populations of color continue to be disproportionately affected by convictions and harsh sentences,9 we must embrace a public-health approach to combatting the harmful effects of fentanyl and other opioids. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to oppose the Ayotte Amendments, S. AMDT. 4082 and S. AMDT. 4083, to the NDAA.




Sincerely,


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
AIDS Alabama
Amity Foundation
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
CAN-DO Foundation
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Chicago Recovery Alliance
The CHOW Project
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)
Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).
#cut50
The Daniel Initiative
Disciples Center for Public Witness
Drug Policy Alliance Drug Policy Forum of Hawai'i
Drug Truth Network
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Exodus Foundation.org
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
Families for Sensible Drug Policy
FedCURE
Federal Public and Community Defenders
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Global Justice Institute
Help Not Handcuffs
Housing Works
Human Rights Watch
Humboldt Institute for Harm Reduction
Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy
International Council of Community Churches
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Life for Pot
Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership Metropolitan Community Churches
Michigan NORML
Mommieactivist and Sons
Moms United to end the War on Drugs
NAACP
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc
National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery
The National Assn of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors (NACBHDD)
National Council of Jewish Women
The National Assn for Rural Mental Health (NARMH)
National Association of Social Workers
The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
NACDL
The National Council of Churches
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Organization for Women
National Register of Health Service Psychologists
National Urban League
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
New Orleans Harm Reduction Network
A New PATH
One Million Americans, Ltd
Peace Alliance
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Public Justice Center
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
Reentry Central
Remove Intoxicated Drivers
Sensible Colorado
The Sentencing Project
St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction
StoptheDrugWar.org
Student Peace Alliance
Treatment Communities of America
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Trystereo
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries.
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Union for Reform Judaism
Virginians Against Drug Violence
VOCAL New York
Women Who Never Give Up
334 East 92nd Street Tenant Association

                                                     
 

(1)  Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fentanyl: Incapacitating Agent,” last modified November 20, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/EmergencyResponseCard_29750022.html
(2)  Fred Bever, “Illicit Version Of Painkiller Fentanyl Makes Heroin Deadlier,” NPR, last modified August 26, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/08/26/434618809/ilicit-version-of-painkiller-fentanyl-makes-heroindeadlier.
(3) Brian MacQuarrie, “DEA Details Path of Deadly Heroin Blend to N.E.,” Boston Globe, June 29, 2014, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/06/28/fentanyl-laced-heroin-makes-journey-new-england-that-startscolombia-and-mexico-dea-says/hVHvjvBE9cvV9lkKLVR3cN/story.html.
(4)  Barry Leonard, National Drug Threat Assessment 2008 (Darby: Diane Publishing, 2009).
(5)  Donna Leinwand Leger, “DEA: Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin surging,” USA Today, last modified March 18, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/03/18/surge-in-overdose-deaths-from-fentanyl/24957967/.
(6)  “21 U.S. Code § 841 – Prohibited acts A,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/841.
(7)  “Ayotte Introduces Bill to Reform Fentanyl Trafficking Penalties,” Kelly Ayotte, Senator for New Hampshire, Sept. 10, 2015, https://www.ayotte.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2174.
(8)  Adam Liptak, “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says,” New York Times, Feb. 28, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/28cnd-prison.html.
(9)  “Racial Disparities in Sentencing,” ACLU, Oct. 27, 2014, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Washington Report Summer 2016


Read the Full Washington Report, Click HERE

Finding the Courage to Confront, Lament, & Heal: A Response to Mark Charles' "The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation"

On the afternoon of my first day as a summer fellow for the Office of Public Witness, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar being held by Navajo theologian Mark Charles entitled “The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation.” Mr. Charles began with a simple disclaimer: that his audience may not like, nor be comfortable, with what he was prepared to present. The presentation was on the history of human rights abuses against Native Americans, and as a Native American himself, Charles was visibly invested in the material at hand.

He told a counter-narrative of the “discovery” of the US and subsequent westward expansion. By his telling, the American people were not a valiant collective of righteous men and women seeking independence on both a religious and ultimately national scale. Rather, they were a band of thieves; justifying violence and genocide through twisted interpretations of Scripture, and marginalizing all those who dared contest the pursuit of an inherently racist and exclusive ‘American Dream.’

Midway through his presentation, Charles asked his audience to emote for him. He called on us to describe in a few words our emotional reaction to what he had delivered thus far, and in return was given responses ranging from ‘ashamed’ to ‘disturbed.’ When called on to respond, my first thought was to ask the very question which had racked my mind from the outset of the presentation:

How do we talk about ‘saving’ a stolen country?

It is the ongoing theme among American leaders, especially those vying for office in the current election cycle; American democracy needs saving from the corrupt figures, defective policy, and broken systems in which it is ensnared. We talk about saving our people from hunger and poverty, conflict and oppression. But how do we have that conversation, while also recognizing that the very system we wish to save is one which was originally built on injustice?

The Church faces similar challenges; our history as Christians is saturated with violence, colored with contempt for those by whom our doctrine and dogma is not shared. We have persecuted our fellow humans, committed acts of terror and violence against our fellow children of God. In which case:

How do we talk about maintaining the values of a Church which has historically wronged?

Charles’ recommendation regarding our nation’s approach to a violent history is one which I believe can be similarly applied to the Church, both within and outside of PC(USA): we need to start a dialogue. Moving on from our collective wrongdoing cannot involve the repression of the parts of our history for which we are not proud. If we are to grow and develop in our Truth, we must take ownership of the whole scope of our story. Mark Charles referred to this process as “confessing the sins of our nation” by undergoing a season of lamentation, asserting that this confrontation with Truth would serve as an outlet for healing.

One question therefore stands to be answered: will we have the courage to learn and discuss,
lament and heal?


For more information on Mark Charles' work, go to http://wirelesshogan.com/

This is a guest post from Summer Fellow Shannon Schmidt. This summer, Shannon is working on international policy under our associate for international issues, Catherine Gordon. Following her fellowship, Shannon will complete her undergraduate career as a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Still No Justice for Freddie Gray

A Statement from Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson on the 
Trial of Freddie Gray Arresting Officer, Edward Nero

May 25, 2016

ON Monday, Officer Edward Nero of the Baltimore Police Department was acquitted on all charges for his role in the unnecessary death of Freddie Gray. Gray died April 19, 2015, from injuries he suffered while handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained in the back of a police transport van.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby brought charges to the six officers responsible for Gray's death, however it is apparent that bringing charges does not guarantee justice. Of the officers being tried, two have not been convicted -Officer Nero and Officer William Porter, who is being retried. 

It is our hope that in the remaining trials, those officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s mistreatment and tragic death will be held responsible. To the family of Freddie Gray, I offer my deepest sympathies. No family should have to suffer the agony of losing a loved one to unnecessary violence.

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” Luke 18:7-8 NRSV

We continue to raise our voices in a cry for justice from our courts, and we call the church to pray that God will give us the courage and strength to have honest conversations about race where we live, work, and worship.

We must be clear that a single trial will not repair the great breach in the fabric of our society rendered by the sin of racism. However, many African American communities have lost faith in our justice system to honor the lives of their sons and daughters, and each court case represents an opportunity to rebuild that trust.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stated Clerk Joins Faith Leaders' Letter in Support of a Just Peace in Colombia



 Dear President Obama and Members of the U.S. Congress:

We write to you as leaders of religious communities and faith-based organizations who share a common hope a just peace for all Colombian people.

We are greatly encouraged by the advances in negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. Although points remain on the agenda, we are hopeful an accord will be reached which can help to end this brutal conflict. We appreciate that many representative victims of the conflict have had the chance to present their views to the negotiating table and encourage both parties to ensure that the voices of the collective organizations of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people are also heard.

We write in support of our Colombian partners as they begin repairing a social fabric that has been torn apart by half a century of war that saw more than 6 million people displaced, over 25,000 disappeared, and more than 220,000 people killed, over eighty percent of whom were civilians.

We welcome the recent decision of the Colombian government to engage with the remaining major guerrilla group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN), a step which Colombian churches and faith groups have long supported in order for peace to take hold throughout the country. We are grateful for the strong support the Obama Administration has given to the peace process with the FARC, and encourage the same support for negotiations with the ELN.

Over the next several years, it will be critical for U.S. policy makers to monitor the peace accords and exert diplomatic, political, and public pressure to ensure their full implementation. We strongly encourage a substantial “Peace Colombia” aid package this year, and for the next several years, to support peace accord implementation. This must be robust and rights-respecting aid which recognizes that “post-accord” does not mean “post-conflict.” There are real risks that the human rights violations committed during the conflict will continue as the accords are implemented. The United States should encourage the Colombian government to investigate and prosecute paramilitary successor groups who continue to threaten and harm communities and our civil society partners.

Further, the United States should redirect assistance for the Colombian armed forces towards programs that will support the implementation of the peace agreement. Assistance should include strong support to civil society and United Nations agencies to monitor and verify the implementation of the accord, including to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.

Finally, the U.S. should be a partner in supporting the efforts of Colombian civil society organizations to foster truth, justice and reconciliation, and to build peace from the ground up. This must include strengthening the voice and capacity of Afro-Colombian people, indigenous populations and women, who have been disproportionately harmed by the conflict but whose voices are too often ignored.

As one Colombian indigenous leader expressed, echoing a sentiment shared by many Colombians, “We have not lived a single day of peace...we want to give our children a chance to live in a country at peace.” Only a peace accord which includes the participation of victims of the conflict and is fully implemented can stop this brutal war and help achieve the vibrant and inclusive democracy that all Colombians deserve. Our country can make the choice to stand with Colombia to take on the challenging but rewarding work of building peace from the ground up. As persons of faith, we call on our government to support the efforts of the Colombian people to build a just and lasting peace.

Rev. Alan Robinson
National Director, Brethren in Christ Church U.S.


Dr. Eli McCarthy
Director of Justice and Peace, Conference of Major Superiors of Men


Mr. Christopher Hale
Executive Director, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good


Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)


Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO, Church World Service


Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Mrs. Diane Randall
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation


Rev. Dr. James Moos
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC/DOC)


Ms. Lisa Haugaard
Executive Director, Latin America Working Group


Rev. Dr. Ron Adams
Pastor, Madison (WI) Mennonite Church


Mr. J. Ron Byler
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.


Mr. Ervin Stutzman
Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA


Mr. Lawrence Couch
Director, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd


Mr. Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA


Rev. Ron Stief
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture


Sister Patricia Chappell
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA


Rev. Mamie Broadhurst
Pastor, Presbyterian Church (USA)


Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)


Emily Brewer
Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship


Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association


Rev. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ


Rev. Kent Siladi
Conference Minister, United Church of Christ, Connecticut Conference


Rev. Dr. John Deckenback
Conference Minister, United Church of Christ, Central Atlantic Conference


Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries


Mr. Don Morris
Interim Executive Director, US Conference of Mennonite Brethren

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

House Child Nutrition Authorization Bill Cause for Concern

May 4, 2016

Dear Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:
We, the undersigned faith organizations and members of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, are deeply concerned about the proposed Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation being considered by the House Education and the Workforce Committee (H.R. 5003). We are called by our faith traditions to feed the hungry and to care for the most vulnerable in our society. Our efforts in local communities serve as a vital lifeline for struggling people, but we cannot match the role of government in assisting and supporting the nearly 16 million children who live at risk of hunger. Therefore, we are called to advocate for robust child nutrition programs.
Today, 1 in 5 children in the United States live at risk of hunger. Hunger is particularly devastating for children, as childhood hunger and malnutrition impair proper physical and cognitive development and hold back our nation’s young from reaching full potential in life. Child nutrition programs should ensure that all children, regardless of race, class, or zip code, have the food they need to live healthy childhoods, to succeed in school, and to reach their full potential.
We urge you to make the following changes to the legislation:
·       Community Eligibility Provision: We are deeply concerned about the proposal to raise the eligibility threshold for schools to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) from 40% to 60% eligible students. If this proposal is included, more than seven thousand currently participating schools would need to reinstate a paper application process and return to monitoring the eligibility of their students.  These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students.[1]  More than 11,500 schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it would lose the ability to participate, making it more difficult for millions of additional students to receive needed school meals. Inevitably some students eligible for lunch and breakfast programs will lose access due to an administratively burdensome application process, denying the food they need to thrive. Further, CEP removes the stigma students may encounter when receiving a free or reduced price meal. CEP adds the dignity our faith traditions call us to provide when serving those in need. We urge the committee to maintain the 40% threshold for CEP to maintain sufficient access to school lunch programs.

·       Summer Meals: It is disheartening that only 1 in 6 low-income children currently access summer meal programs. Hunger does not take a summer vacation, so it is up to Congress to fund innovative programs that improve access and participation in summer meals for all children in need. Improvements to these programs should prioritize access to summer feeding options for those living in rural communities and on Indian Reservations, who are particularly underserved by current summer meal programs. We urge the committee to make significant new investments in summer meal programs and to support alternative delivery models to better connect eligible children to meals during the summer months.

·       Verification: We are concerned that increasing the number of school lunch program applications that must be verified will negatively impact children and families, as children will inadvertently lose access to important nutrition programs. These processes especially hurt students whose parents do not speak English as a first language or are unable to fill out the appropriate forms. The verification process should not become so onerous that it inhibits eligible students from receiving meals. For these reasons, we urge the committee to thoughtfully consider impacts on schools and low-income families and communities before advancing the proposal to raise the verification cap. 

·       WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is an essential health program for pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five. WIC does not only provide funding for healthy food and formula, but also nutrition advice, breastfeeding support, and referrals to doctors. We urge the committee to find new ways to increase access to WIC by further investing in the program and increasing the child eligibility age.
Our faith traditions compel us to care for those most in need. Our country’s commitment to ensure all children are fed reflects this sacred mandate. Congress’ work to balance the budget and protect program integrity should not come at the expense of child nutrition programs that support low-income families. As you move forward in reauthorizing these programs, we urge you to make smart, long-term investments in the futures of our children and our nation by expanding access and participation in these essential programs.
Sincerely,
The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The Jewish Federations of North America
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Institute Justice Team
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

Signatures as of May 3, 2016




[1] Neuberger, Zoe. Proposal to Restrict Free School Meals Option Could Increase Food Insecurity in High-Poverty Neighborhoods. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 18 Apr. 2016.