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Faith values weave through discussions at 2013 Legislative Conference

Kathy Lee, Whitworth Political Science Professor
Kathy Lee, Whitworth political science professor leads discussion.

Faith values of loving neighbors, caring for the least, serving the poor, welcoming strangers, seeking justice for prisoners and protecting creation wove through discussions during the 2013 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.

Paul Benz, co-director of the Faith Action Network (FAN), said FAN works in Olympia to help people of faith raise their voices in the halls of power because of their concern that lines at food banks and shelters are too long.

“We are looking at a systemic approach to addressing the lines,” said Paul Benz, legislative director with the FAN, calling for faith communities to come with “a united voice advocating for justice.”  FAN helps do that by organizing more than 60 faith communities around the state to be involved as advocating congregations.

Catholic priorities coincide

Anecdotally, Scott Cooper, director of Parish Social Ministries with Catholic Charities in Spokane, senses that more panhandlers are lining downtown street corners because programs such as General Assistance Unemployable have been renamed, revised and reduced.

He urges the faith community to keep up with changing policies and programs as legislators try to save dollars and limit discussions to budget rather than evaluating how each program serves people and saves funds in the long run.

Aware good can come from change, Scott noted that priorities of the Washington State Catholic Conference—the detailed list is at www.thewscc.org—this year call for “retaining programs that provide services for the most vulnerable persons, collaborating with policy leaders to improve efficiencies in providing services, creating a just tax structure, providing adequate revenue to support ‘safety net’ programs and establishing new revenue sources if the state is not able to address the needs of poor people through existing resources or re-prioritizing expenditures.” He said the goal is that programs long promoted to help people are not “whittled away to nothing.”

For example, until fall 2011, under General Assistance to the Unemployable, recipients received about $339 a month in assistance. That became the Disability Lifeline, with support dropping to $197 a month, and after six months it transitioned in spring of 2012 into three programs: Housing and Essential Needs (HEN), Aging Blind and Disabled (ABD) and Pregnant Women each providing $197.

While DSHS still processes applicants for the ABD and Pregnant Women programs, the state is contracting with the Salvation Army in Spokane County to administer the HEN program, Scott said.

As the landscape for services changes, people of faith need to keep up, he said, and advocate to retain needed programs.

For faith-based advocates, it’s no longer about “what we would like” but “what we need to keep,” he said, and making sure “we don’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” given that under Washington’s regressive tax system, low-income people pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes than do the well-off.

For information, call 358-4372.

Immigration reform possible

Greg Cunningham
Greg Cunningham, Catholic Charities works in Immigration and Refugee Services

On immigration reform issues, Greg Cunningham of Catholic Charities’ Immigration and Refugee Services similarly pointed to a changing landscape, especially with recognition that 72 percent of the Latino vote helped re-elect Barack Obama as President.

“Now both sides realize immigration reform is necessary,” he said.

Greg discussed the different policies for the status of immigrants and those designated as refugees, who are welcomed to protect them from persecution based on ethnicity, race, religion or politics.  There are also varying rules about U.S. citizens supporting visas for family members.

Proposals by the U.S. Senate and President are similar, but differ on the implementation of prerequisites, if any, of an earned legalization program.

Greg believes there will be some action to allow undocumented immigrants to gain legal status to live and work in the U.S.  They may or may not lead to permanent residence and citizenship.

He also noted that the motivation for many, especially from Mexico, to come diminished with the recession and unemployment. 

When people say they want to protect U.S. jobs, Greg also reminds that the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 increased immigration to the United States, as it undermined Mexico’s economy, which lost 1 million jobs.  In addition, drug violence, fed by U.S. consumption, has also motivated people to flee.

He encourages people to keep informed on immigration issues through One America, the Immigration Advocates Network and Justice for Immigrants.

For information, call 455-4960.

Environmental bills listed

Tom Soeldner
Tom Soeldner, Faith and Environment Network

Tom Soeldner, who is with the Faith and Environment Network and FAN, spoke of three environmental priorities in the 2013 Washington State Legislature: 1) An example of common sense legislation is “Toxic-Free Kids and Families”—SB 5181 and HB 1294 that will remove unnecessary flame retardants from children’s clothing and furniture in homes, and will prevent chemicals identified by the state as a concern for children’s health from being used as replacements.

2) The need for clean energy solutions means the state needs to develop a climate policy that accelerates clean energy investment and helps free consumers from the “economic dead weight of fossil-fuel dependence.

3) Conservation works funded by the state’s capital budget can promote fiscally-responsible projects that benefit the entire state by protecting Puget Sound, reducing toxic runoff, expanding recreation opportunities and improving habitat and forest health.  “These projects preserve the incredible natural resources of our state that make it a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Tom said.

He recommends that people keep up with issues through the Environmental Priorities Coalition at www.environmentalpriorities.org, Earth Ministries in Seattle at earthministry.org and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy at www.celp.org/water/celp/Home.html.

For information, call 838-4632.



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