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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Speakers promote prayer, policies, perspectives, progress, persuasion

Paul Benz, FANWA
Paul Benz, co-director of Faith Action Network (FAN)

In his ministry of advocating in the Washington State Legislature for programs that reflect faith values, Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network (FAN) prays for legislators and urges congregations to pray for the legislators in their districts and to call them to adopt policies that “put our prayers into action.”

State legislators are part-time, in session 105 days, Jan. 14 to April 28 this year, and 60 days next year.  This year, they develop the biennial budget for July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2015.

“They are to use the state treasury for everyone and to balance the budget, which is $2 billion in arrears as the state recovers from a severe recession,” said Paul.  “With the state required to provide ample funding for education, there are few areas to cut.”

He expects contention over the budget with the new Senate majority coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.

He summarized FAN’s agenda, urging participants to contact their legislators to:

• Prevent wage theft by employers underpaying employees;

• Advocate gun-violence prevention through a universal background check of gun buyers and another for safe storage of guns;

• Support adequate funding for health and human services through the State Food Assistance Program, the Farm to School Program, the Housing Trust Fund and Medicaid expansion;

• Work for reforms to create revenue to balance the budget by extending the beer tax, extending the business and occupation tax to financial services, enacting a capital gains tax, and adopting the tax exemption reform bill that sets expiration dates for 600 tax exemptions and evaluates how many jobs they create;

• Support criminal justice reform through three Second Chance Act bills, to review juveniles sentenced to life without parole, to repeal prohibition of state funds for higher education programs in state prisons, and to prohibit disseminating a juvenile’s court record;

• Repeal the death penalty, favoring life without parole, which will at least have a hearing;

• Adopt a state DREAM act for immigration reform for students and for the Voting Rights Act to enfranchise people of color.

Paul encourages congregations to put the legislative hotline, 800-562-6000 in church bulletins, newsletters, e-news and websites, so members can voice their views.

For information, call 206-390-4133 or email

Wage theft creates poverty

The top 2013 priority of FAN is for the Washington Legislature to pass a law that would end “wage theft,” referring to various ways employers avoid paying their employees what they are owed.

“It’s a growing area of economic injustice that involves day labor, shorting people on social security and unemployment, and other practices,” said Paul Benz of FAN. 

“It affects those on the bottom of the economic ladder and contributes to the state’s and nation’s poverty rate, hunger and homelessness.  We believe hundreds of cases go unreported, because employers would retaliate, given that Washington is an ‘at-will’ state and employees would likely be fired.  It also means a loss of revenue to the state treasury.”

A bill before the House of Representatives HB 1440 would stiffen penalties for employers who “cheat employees,” said Paul, urging people in their faith communities to join the effort to stop wage theft.

For information, call 206-625-9790 or visit

Advocates are effective

Scott Cooper

Even though for the last six years it seems that the only things legislators have talked about is budget, Scott Cooper, director of Parish Social Ministries with Catholic Charities, said “change agents need to tell stories of how we have been effective.”

He reminds that for years, people of faith advocated for mental health parity in health insurance.

“It was a pipe dream, but we promoted it because of our faith values, and it passed,” he said. 

“It’s important to tell our elected officials our values and what we want, because they are there to take input from constituents, even if it seems impossible,” Scott said. 

For years, having a State Housing Trust Fund seemed impossible, but now it’s in place.

“Even though the task seems daunting, people of faith need to move forward.  We are in this for the long haul,” Scott said.  “Look at how the tectonic plates are shifting on immigration right now.  The conversation is changing.  Maybe the legislation won’t be perfect, but there is movement.”

Change happens that requires new policies and ways of thinking, he said, aware it sometimes takes a generation. 

“What happens in my generation may not be reflected in a particular bill today,” he said,  “but there will be changes because you came today and will communicate what you learned.  We are effective change agents,” he said.

Scott calls for keeping perspective and hope, so “we see that things will be better.  There can be more justice. We need to act.  Our children and grandchildren will need to act, too.”

For information, call 358-4372 or email

Race matters in public policies

Tia Griffin
Tia Griffin

Tia Griffin of the Washington Community Action Network (CAN) Spokane Team said that with 30 percent of Washington residents being people of color—and the numbers growing—race matters in public policies.

Washington CAN evaluated legislators in its “Report Card on Racial Justice,” giving them overall a “D,” and 60 legislators “F” grades based on their votes on 25 bills and their leadership in 2012.

“The health, wealth, education and political representation gaps between people of color and white people are widening,” she said, “quadrupling since the mid 1980s. That is the result of policy decisions on education, housing, civil rights and tribal sovereignty.”

Fifty-one groups endorse the report and call legislators to pass laws to advance racial equity by expanding access to Medicaid, dental care and early learning; supporting voting rights and full funding of education; abolishing the death penalty; prohibiting mandatory e-verify of employees; adopting a capital gains tax and closing corporate tax loopholes “so everyone pays a fair share to create opportunities for everyone to share prosperity,” she said.

See February article at

Copyright © March 2013 - The Fig Tree