Thank you for your efforts to promote life and dignity through your advocacy on issues affecting our brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world!
This page summarizes our advocacy efforts during the last several months: what has been accomplished, and what you can do to follow up with your members of Congress.
Read about previous accomplishments
Accomplishments as of January 2011
Assistance for Unemployed and Low-Income People
We are happy to report that thanks to your advocacy efforts and the bishops' letters to Congress and the Administration, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act (H.R. 4853), which was signed into law in December, includes three provisions that we requested. To benefit unemployed persons, the new law extends the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for thirteen months, through December 31, 2011. To benefit low-income persons, the new law extends for two years improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit that reduces the marriage penalty and increases the benefit for low-income families with three or more children. It also extends for two years the Child Tax Credit, which increases the value of the credit for low-income workers and makes it accessible to more people. Thanks for your advocacy!
We asked you to urge Congress to make child nutrition a priority by renewing funding for child nutrition programs during the lame duck session. In December, the Senate version of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S.3307) was signed into law. The legislation provides $4.5 billion dollars over ten years for improved child nutrition through more afterschool and summer meals; higher reimbursement rates to school lunch providers; and improved administration of the WIC program including easier enrollment process for children and funding for programmatic improvements. USCCB applauds these successes but is opposed to the food stamp reduction (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) contained in the bill and will work for the restoration of food stamp dollars during the 112th Congress.
We asked you to urge Congress to provide funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) as a way to build and rehabilitate affordable housing for extremely low-income individuals and families. Funding for the NHTF was not included in any bill that Congress passed during the lame duck session. There may be opportunities to fund the NHTF in the 112th Congress, but the initial price tag--$1.065 billion--makes it challenging in the current economic and political climate. On a positive note, another housing bill, the Supportive Housing for the Elderly Act (S. 118), was enacted and will implement key reforms to housing programs for the elderly (commonly referred to as Section 202 programs). Funding from these programs will go to rehabilitating older buildings and providing supportive services for elderly residents. Many Catholic Charities programs, dioceses, and other Catholic organizations throughout the country rely on Section 202 funding for their projects.
A Preview of Domestic Issues in the New Congress
The leadership of the new Congress has indicated that the Congress will operate under new budget rules that will make it very difficult to maintain adequate spending levels for safety net programs and other programs that benefit poor and vulnerable people. Many safety net programs are already inadequately funded; additional cuts will leave even more people underserved and also harm state budgets. New House budget rules could require caps on entitlement spending, such as health care, and may also require any legislation creating a new spending program to include the elimination of an existing program. Catholic advocates will have to work hard to ensure that the needs of the poor and vulnerable are seen as a priority.
The bishops will continue to prioritize their three moral criteria in any health care
legislation: (1) Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all; (2) Retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protect conscience rights; and (3) Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access. In the new Congress, we will work to improve and fix the health care law so that it reflects the above criteria, while not undercutting the provisions in the new law that expand coverage for the uninsured; expand access to health care; and make health care more affordable. The new Congress will be more supportive of improving the new health care law by fixing the deficient protections for prohibiting federal funding abortion coverage and improving conscience protections. However, there will be threats to reduce coverage and expansion of care, which will need to be opposed.
International Successes in the Last Congress
We are happy to report that thanks to your efforts and those of many other advocates, the Senate ratified the New START Treaty with a solid bipartisan vote of 71 to 26 just days before we observed the birthday of the Prince of Peace. New START reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals in verifiable ways.
Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Due to your successful advocacy efforts, companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are required to take steps, including regular audits, to ensure that the minerals used in their products are not financing militia violence in the eastern Congo. The law also allows companies to label goods as conflict mineral-free and directs the U.S. government to develop a strategy that addresses the links between human rights abuses and illegal extraction of minerals from the Congo. Thanks to your advocacy efforts, the prayers of the Church and people in DRC have been answered.
In part due to your efforts, companies registered with the SEC that are involved in the extraction and commercial development of minerals, oil, and gas are also required to publish what they pay to the governments of the countries in which they work. This requirement will make it easier for civil society in those countries to hold their governments accountable for how these revenues are used and for investors to more fully take into account the risks of certain projects. Your successful advocacy efforts help ensure that poor and vulnerable people throughout the world will benefit.
We asked you to urge Congress to provide much-needed emergency relief and funds for long-term reconstruction in Haiti. Congress passed the Haiti Economic Lift Program ( HELP, S. 3275 and H.R. 5160) and the Haiti Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery Act ( H.R. 4573 and S. 2961), and both pieces of legislation were signed by the President. These are huge victories that will help Haiti to recover and rebuild. We are deeply thankful for your support of Haiti as it struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake.
FY 2010 Supplemental Budget Request
Thanks in part to your advocacy on the Emergency Supplemental, Congress approved $ 2.8 billion for Haiti, of which $1.23 billion went to relief and reconstruction, $943 million to debt relief, and $150 million to food assistance. Of the $1.597 billion we requested for global emergency needs, Congress approved $165 million for migration and refugee assistance and $460 million for International Disaster Assistance. Although the amounts allocated for global emergency needs did not reach the levels requested by USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in these difficult economic times the additional funds are welcome and will save lives and help protect human dignity.
A Preview of International Issues in the New Congress
Although poverty-focused international assistance is less than 1% of the national budget, maintaining our nations commitment to poor countries and communities will face an uphill fight. The popular misperception that our nation spends 10 to 15% or more of its budget on international assistance may add to public pressures to cut what people incorrectly perceive as a bloated international assistance budget. Catholic advocates will need to work hard to maintain funding for humanitarian assistance, morally appropriate health services, and development programs that touch the lives of poor persons throughout the world. The changed makeup of Congress will likely make it easier to preserve conscience clauses and other provisions in foreign assistance programs that allow faith-based groups to be partners in delivering assistance. Maintaining the bipartisan consensus on the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other programs is critical. We may also have opportunities to promote provisions that reduce poverty and enhance efficiency, promote transparency, and encourage local participation, especially of civil society.
Human rights and religious freedom may receive increased attention and there may be an effort to address the scourge of violence against women, especially in areas of conflict. In addition, the International Religious Freedom Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, legislation strongly supported by the U.S. bishops, will be up for reauthorization.
Trade agreements are likely to come before Congress, including the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. Catholic advocates will want to be sure that protection of poor persons, indigenous communities, the environment and labor rights are addressed.
In addition, there will be specific advocacy related to a number of countries, especially those in conflict or suffering from natural disaster, including: Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, and Sudan. Sudan faces uncertainty as Southern Sudan holds a referendum on unity or secession in January. It will be important to promote flexible assistance to Sudan to deal with the eventual outcomes of the referendum. It continues to be important to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, security and recognition for Israel, and a viable and independent state for Palestinians, and to ask Congress to do no harm, e.g. denying funding to the Palestinian Authority as they struggle to build the structures of a future state. It also remains important to advocate for continued support of Haiti reconstruction and long-term development efforts, especially by the efficient and accountable disbursement of aid already appropriated. There are many other international issues that may be on the agenda, including: food security, climate change, debt relief, and torture. And there are other country-specific situations that may be addressed, including: the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
You can find out if your Congresspersons co-sponsored particular legislation, and how they voted on particular legislation, at www.congress.gov. Thank you for your continued advocacy in support of human life and dignity! Take Action Online! Join our Action Network and we'll send you important updates and how you can speak out on important issues that impact human life and dignity.