Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unfinished Business – What the President and Congress have yet to do

Earlier this week, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons released a statement calling for “principle, not politics” in the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations, and in a recent OPW blog post, we reviewed the major concerns surrounding the fiscal cliff and its economic justice implications.  But it is not only the fiscal cliff that raises our concern at this time.

As the year and the Congressional session draw to a close, there is so much left to do.  In addition to a remedy for the fiscal cliff, Congress has also failed to take action on two of the PC(USA)’s domestic legislative priorities for the year: reauthorizations of the Farm Bill and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

Because of the way negotiations are moving forward, it is with President Obama and Speaker Boehner that the final decisions rest about what will get done and what will wait.  Despite the fact that it is Congress’ job to complete legislative reauthorizations like the Farm Bill and VAWA, we invite you to contact President Obama to ask him to ensure that these essential reauthorizations are included in his final bargain with Speaker Boehner.

The Farm Bill – Just and Sustainable Food Policy

The Farm Bill expired on October 1, 2012.  Just and sustainable food policy has long been a priority of the PC(USA), whose Presbyterian Hunger Program is a leading force demanding justice in the U.S. food system. We have been calling for a Farm Bill that will:
  • Reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the United States.
  • Strengthen rural communities and combat rural poverty.
  • Provide a fair and effective farmer safety net that allows farmers in the U.S. and around the world to earn economically sustainable livelihoods.
  • Promote conservation and protect creation from environmental degradation.
  • Protect the dignity, health, and safety of those responsible for working the land.
  • Promote research related to alternative, clean, and renewable forms of energy that do not negatively impact food prices or the environment.
  • Safeguard and improve international food aid in ways that encourage local food security and improve the nutritional quality of food aid.
(excerpted from Principles for a Faithful Farm Bill, an interfaith statement)

We must not let Congress ignore the Farm Bill reauthorization. Already the Farm Bill’s expiration has thrown even more uncertainty into an inherently risky profession.  But even without considering the costs to U.S. farms, both small and large, the Farm Bill’s impact on hunger and nutrition at home and around the world is tremendous.  It contains too many vital programs to be left for a new Congress. Furthermore, with the Fiscal Cliff looming ahead, there are serious concerns that lawmakers will find significant deficit reduction by cutting or making structural changes to the Farm Bill’s most important anti-hunger program: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps).

SNAP is one of the most effective programs for reducing hunger and poverty.  In 2011, when the sluggish economy and high unemployment continued to plague workers in this country, SNAP kept 3.9 million people above the poverty.[1] SNAP’s structure makes it an elastic program that can automatically respond to fluctuations in the economy.  When times are bad and more people are eligible for help, the program expands to provide needed assistance.  When the economy improves, people go back to work, and the number of eligible people falls, the SNAP rolls contract, reducing the cost and size of the program.  The counter-cyclical nature of SNAP is precisely the reason it is so good at reducing hunger – its very design makes sure that it serves more people when times are hardest.  Now is not the time to change that fundamental structure.  In the church, we see the faces of hunger every day in our soup kitchens, food pantries, and other ministries of mercy.  We cannot meet the need alone – only a public-private partnership where the government provides robust assistance, will respond to the current need.

Make sure the President knows that you support a year-end deal that includes a Farm Bill reauthorization that reflects the Senate-passed bill and that protects SNAP from further cuts.

Violence Against Women Act – Protection for ALL Victims of Violence

The Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, recognizes the insidious and pervasive nature of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and it supports comprehensive, effective, and costs saving responses to these crimes.  VAWA programs, administered by the Departments of Justice and Health & Human Services, give law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges the tools they need to hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe, while supporting victims.  The current authorization of VAWA expired on Oct. 1, 2011.

On April 26, 2012, the Senate passed a bill (S. 1925) to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with bipartisan support. This bill strengthened protections for all victims, including immigrants, Native women, and gay and lesbian victims. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives passed a version of this bill that turns back the clock on VAWA. The House bill lacks several of the protections included by the Senate - in fact, some of the differences in the House bill would actually increase the risk faced by some women

So, before the end of the year, Congress must enact a VAWA reauthorization that includes the important improvements contained in the bipartisan Senate bill.  Again, because the final deal of the year will be hashed out between President Obama and Speaker Boehner, it is imperative that the President hears about the need to include VAWA reauthorization, with language from S. 1925, in the final deal.  VAWA has never been a partisan issue and it should not be held hostage by vitriolic political rhetoric. Our commitment to ending domestic and intimate-partner violence goes beyond partisan politics or the ideological divide.

[1] "As Poverty Remains Unacceptably High, Coalition on Human Needs Calls on
Congress to Preserve Programs Proven to Lift Families out of Poverty." Coalition of Human Needs. September 12, 2012.