OGR Blog

April 2, 2020

Introduction

It can be tempting to think that the fear-inducing, hyper-partisan, misleading, and outright false content pervasive today is an exclusively modern problem. Yet for thousands of years, our Jewish and Christian ancestors have taught that deception is as old as humanity itself. In Genesis 3, the serpent manipulates Eve through a series of misleading and half-true statements to eat the forbidden fruit, then makes Adam do the same by offering him the choice through a trusted source. Sound like anything that has crossed your social media feed recently?

As Christians, we are not called to a life of half-truths and deception. We are called to follow a God who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Prayer Book also teaches that among our duties to our neighbors is “to be honest and fair in our dealings” and to “speak truth, and not mislead others by our silence.” (pg. 848) Let us therefore examine our own conduct to limit the spread of deceitful information and call upon our leaders to work towards the same.

The rapid expansion of digitalization and online platforms has enabled deceitful content to spread more rapidly and disguise itself more effectively. The nonprofit First Draft News has excellent language describing what information manipulation looks like today:

"The term ‘fake news’ doesn’t begin to cover all of this. Most of this content isn’t even fake; it’s often genuine, used out of context and weaponized by people who know that falsehoods based on a kernel of truth are more likely to be believed and shared. And most of this can’t be described as ‘news’. It’s good old-fashioned rumors, it’s memes, it’s manipulated videos and hyper-targeted ‘dark ads’ and old photos re-shared as new.

At First Draft, we advocate using the terms that are most appropriate for the type of content; whether that’s propaganda, lies, conspiracies, rumors, hoaxes, hyperpartisan content, falsehoods or manipulated media. We also prefer to use the terms disinformation, misinformation or malinformation. Collectively, we call it information disorder."

Table of Contents

  • Definitions
  • Understanding Information Disorder and Disinformation Campaigns
  • On Elections
  • On the U.S. 2020 Census
  • What Can I Do?
  • Other Things to Consider
  • Further Resources
  • Resolutions by General Convention and Executive Council

Definitions

Information Disorder: a term coined by First Draft News to encompass the spectrum of misinformation, malinformation, and disinformation 
Misinformation: false content that the person sharing doesn’t realize is false or misleading
Malinformation: genuine information shared with an intent to cause harm
Disinformation: shared content that is intentionally false and/or misleading and designed to cause harm
Social Cybersecurity: the science to characterize, understand, and forecast cyber-mediated changes in human behavior, social, cultural and political outcomes

Some disinformation is entirely false and fabricated, like this “news” article claiming Pope Francis has coronavirus. As this twitter user points out, the domain was registered several years ago in China and suddenly changed a couple of days previously.


Source: https://twitter.com/cindyotis_/status/1233771696462684161

Bots can be used to amplify fringe messages to mainstream audiences. Russian trolls, sophisticated bots, and “content polluters” tweet about vaccination and anti-vaccine messages like this one at significantly higher rates than average users. An estimated 25% of climate denial tweets are spread by bots.

One particular example of concern involves Russian intelligence services using paid advertisements during the 2016 U.S. election that sent different audiences different targeted messages. While national governments have long-used misinformation against enemies, social media has fundamentally changed the scope and reach of these campaigns. The goal of the ads was to widen existing divisions in the U.S., not simply to promote contradictory messages.  Notable use of inflammatory language and images and deliberately-misleading names of Facebook pages contributed to the confusion—nothing shows these ads were paid for by foreign actors.


Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/business/russian-ads-facebook-targeting/

Understanding Information Disorder and Disinformation Campaigns

Roughly 4 in 10 Americans say they often come across made-up news and information. Although the emerging field of social cybersecurity is just now starting to gauge how information disorder affects individuals and society, we have a fairly good understanding of how manipulated information is spread.

Disinformation campaigns are deliberately crafted to spread false or misleading information. However, it may not be the case that the campaign message itself is the actual goal. A common tactic is to first identify two pro/con groups on a divisive issue (abortion, vaccinations, climate change, and political ideology are prime examples). An effective disinformation campaign would infiltrate both sides, backing group leaders, and helping to develop echo chamber qualities in the group. In echo chambers, group members sideline outside information, pass internal information extremely quickly, and make decisions based on emotion and “what everyone knows.” Campaigns use this emotion-based decision-making to incite feelings like dismay or excitement in both groups, then pit the two sides against each other. Ultimately, both suffer from a lack of cross-issue communication and lose even more trust in “the other,” in short, enlarging the divide between the two sides.

Researchers are extremely concerned that disinformation campaigns undermine democratic processes by fostering doubt and destabilizing the common ground that democratic societies require. “[It’s like] listening to static through headphones,” says Dr. Kate Starbird, professor at the University of Washington. “It is designed to overwhelm our capacity to make sense of information, to push us into thinking that the healthiest response is to disengage. And we may have trouble seeing the problem when content aligns with our political identities.”

On Elections

Elections and politics have always involved disinformation and manipulation. Often, a politician’s ability to effectively use and counter such strategies is a mark of political competency. Consider Odysseus, “the man of twists and turns,” whose cleverness and trickery was praised by men and gods in the Greek epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. Yet democratic societies rely on fair and free elections to ensure that government derives its authority from the will of the people. Disinformation campaigns aimed at voters undermine the ability of a country to hold fair and free elections. There are number of tactics used for this goal.

Microtargeting of communities is particularly concerning: how can an election be fair if one community receives highly targeted, misleading messages urging them to vote for or against a candidate? Or worse, what happens when targeted messages advertise the incorrect time, place, or method of voting to a particular group, like the “Text to Vote for Hillary” ads? Even the threat of such actions undermines confidence in democratic systems.

We now know that for the past few years targeted international digital campaigns in the U.S. and around the world have worked to spread intentionally inaccurate content, undermine faith in election procedures, and widen existing fissures in multiple countries. Yet even U.S. domestic organizations are increasingly using these same disinformation techniques for short-term election or politically-motivated gains. Ultimately, election disinformation pushed by all actors weakens the democratic system.

The Episcopal Church recognizes the process of voting and political participation is an act of Christian stewardship, and that such processes must be fair, secure, and just (see resolutions EC022020.16 and 2018-D096). Since misinformation threatens this process, The Episcopal Church calls upon all its members to be vigilant when engaging with online information and encourages the use of fact-checking and source identification to limit misinformation’s spread. Further, we urge Episcopalians to hold government officials accountable for limiting the spread of information that is false and designed to cause harm.

On the U.S. 2020 Census

Every 10 years, the US government undertakes a massive effort to count all individuals living in the country. This count is critically important: it determines representation in Congress, is used to allocate federal funds for the next decade, and provides valuable information for state and local community officials, service providers, and private businesses. Misinformation about the census is easily spread and incredibly damaging. Communities where census misinformation is most rampant are often ones with “hard-to-count” subgroups who have the most to gain from accurate population counts.

Targets of census misinformation often include:

  • Data privacy and financial scams. What you need to know: The Census Bureau will never ask for your Social Security number, credit card or bank account numbers, or a financial donation.
  • In-person census takers. What you need to know: During the spring and summer of the 2020 Census, in-person census takers will visit homes to follow up with individuals who have not yet responded. All workers carry an ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date. If you have questions about their identity, you can call +1-844-330-2020 to speak with a Census Bureau representative.
  • Data privacy and protection guarantees. What you need to know: Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, census data may ONLY be used for statistical purposes. The Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies.

You can learn more about Census Misinformation and how to counter it on the official U.S. Census website. Also, don’t miss the Office of Government Relation’s Census Series and census engagement toolkit!

What Can I Do?

Misinformation often spreads faster than real news and reaches a wider audience. It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to identify. The first step in addressing misinformation is acknowledgement: all of us contribute to the problem, and we must all take ownership to stop it. As long as misinformation remains an issue for “the other” to solve—Gen Z, Boomers, Facebook, Millennials, in-laws—it will persist.

We won’t catch all the misinformation streaming past us. But before you re-share that tweet, or tell a friend about that surprising headline you saw, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Where’s it from? Look for the source and be careful of fake copycat websites.
  2. What’s missing? Do the headline and article match? Are other news organizations talking about it?
  3. How do you feel? If a headline or article sparks an intense emotion like fear, anger, or vindication, be watchful. That’s a common tactic from someone trying to manipulate you, not from someone trying to spread reputable news.

 

Other things to consider:

  • Learn who to trust. An unfortunate consequence of disinformation vigilance can be censorship through noise. If vigilance leads us to distrust every headline, then those promoting disinformation are succeeding. This means we are less likely to receive information that is accurate and informative. Learning who generally produces accurate information is as important as carefully examining unknown sources.
  • Genre matters. It’s not just satirical Onion articles that get shared as a “news.” Be mindful of the differences in presentation, fact-checking protocol, and accountability standards between peer-reviewed research, fact-checked news articles, personal opinion pieces and talk shows, and various forms of satire, propaganda, and gossip.
  • One effective way to end disinformation campaigns is to label them. While you might not want to engage with the comment thread debates on social media, consider making a comment or sending a private message to friends and family members when they share a post that you suspect is false or misleading.  And be responsive to the same feedback from others!  
  • Communicate to elected officials that protection from disinformation campaigns is important to you.
  • Consider asking your members of Congress to support election security. Bills debated in the 116th Congress include the DETER Act S. 1060,  Honest Ads Act S.1356/H.R.2592, and SHIELD Act H.R. 4617.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the relationship between free speech and disinformation. Consider: Does (or should) the Constitution offer paid commercial or political ads the same free speech protections as individuals? Does freedom of speech also include the freedom to receive information? If so, does disinformation threaten that right? Who (if anyone) should be responsible for tracking/tagging false information? Should there be limits to web anonymity or author disclosure requirements?

Further Resources

If you want to learn more about information disorder, here are some recommendations:

Resolutions by General Convention and Executive Council

Work on this resource was led by Rebecca Cotton, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

Introduction It can be tempting to think that the fear-inducing, hyper-partisan, misleading, and outright false content pervasive today is an exclusively modern problem. Yet for thousands of years, our Jewish and Christian ancestors have taught...
April 1, 2020

TODAY is April 1st, Census Day! This is a key reference point for the census. When you respond to the census, you'll tell the Census Bureau where you live on April 1, 2020. Go to 2020census.gov to fill yours out today!

So far in our 2020 Census series, we have reviewed federal programs that rely on census data for effective implementation. But the information gathered from the census has a large impact on private businesses and infrastructure services within the United States as well. In addition, the American Community Survey (ACS) provides relevant data to businesses and the Federal Highway Administration to support the growth of the private sector and the expansion of America’s infrastructure. This information helps to ensure that growing communities have expanded resources and transit options to support them.  (Remember, while not everyone will receive an ACS form this year, if you do receive one, you are required to fill out both the ACS and the 2020 census forms.)

The census and the ACS were created to achieve substantially different goals. The census’s main function is to provide an accurate count of America’s population for the purpose of Congressional apportionment, whereas the ACS is intended to measure the changing social and economic characteristics of America’s population by analyzing education, housing, employment, and income, among other factors. The data taken from these two surveys have a big impact on many aspects of our lives as communities.

On Private Enterprise

Owners of large and small businesses can explore population statistics to better understand how to most effectively deliver their products or services to potential customers. These statistics are found through the continuous ACS survey and the Economic Census that occurs every 5 years. While the ACS compiles data on America’s population, the Economic Census obtains information from all non-farm businesses, asking what kind of business they are, their geographic location, total revenue, and payroll. This information is extremely detailed, showing average customer spending, the age range of local communities, and the average amount of time it takes a building permit to be approved. In addition to growing their business, owners can use this data when hiring, by basing the pay of their employees off of payrolls of similar businesses in the area. Finally, the ACS population data help business owners to determine if an area has the population and economic support to open or expand.

On Infrastructure

The federal government spends more than $675 billion annually on critical transportation services across the country, including the maintenance and building of roads. ACS data provide insight on what regions of the United States are growing the fastest, which can inform where federal funding is directed to state and local governments to support further improvement of infrastructure. Increasing infrastructure spending can have a significant positive effect on the economy both in the short term and long term. The increased level of spending in the short term stimulates the economy directly and indirectly. Government spending directly increases economic output, as the government is purchasing goods and services from contractors to complete projects. Indirectly, the economy is boosted via the multiplier effect, in which $1 of government spending can potentially increase economic output by more than $1. The census’s role of analyzing population trends allows the expansion of infrastructure where it is most needed, making local transit more responsive to population trends and aiding the American economy as a whole.

Without the census, American businesses and infrastructure would not have the data to guide decision-making and investments. In a best-case scenario, the census and ACS provide information that allows the federal government, state and local governments, and the private sector to better respond to and serve the needs of communities across the United States.

Additional Resources

Census Series Week 1: Why We Count
Census Series Week 2: Healthcare
Census Series Week 3: Education
Census Series Week 4: Social Safety Net Programs

Be sure to come back to our Civic Engagement webpage for more updates throughout 2020, and don’t miss our Census Engagement Toolkit!

Work on this 2020 Census Series was led by Blair Hood, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

TODAY is April 1st, Census Day! This is a key reference point for the census. When you respond to the census, you'll tell the Census Bureau where you live on April 1, 2020. Go to 2020census.gov to fill yours out today! So far in our 2020 Census...
March 31, 2020

The Office of Government Relations appreciates your work and advocacy as members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network. While the EPPN, the Church’s grassroots advocacy network, normally engages in weekly action, the pace of legislation and advocacy over the past two weeks has been incredible. Thank you for staying with us! Your voice, alongside thousands of other Episcopalians, helped to ensure that the stimulus bill addressed some of the most critical needs for the vulnerable and at-risk among us. As we take a moment to review the full scope and impact of this historic legislation, we want to first thank our Congress and then update you on some of the things we did together as Episcopalians and with our advocacy partners.

Take Action Today!

First, we ask you to thank Congress for taking action in this time of national crisis. You can write to Congress here to thank them for their work and urge them to continue working in areas where further progress is needed.

What we have done!

Second, we want to be sure to fill you in on some of what we have done in the Office of Government Relations. The stimulus bill addressed so many different issues, and we, alongside numerous coalition partners, have been active in our public messaging and action alerts as well as putting out statements and signing on to letters. We are extremely grateful for our ecumenical, interfaith, and secular advocacy partners for their expertise and for amplifying and increasing the impact of our advocacy. Thanks to our collective efforts, there are several subtle and major accomplishments ranging from the inclusion of millions of previously ineligible people in unemployment to paid sick leave to the expansion of the charitable deduction. Please find a summary of our actions below.

Over the past weeks, we have sent you four action alerts on legislation to address the public health and economic dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis. We have published our statements and sign-on letters on topics ranging from support for correctional institutions to temporarily increasing unemployment benefits. Links to our action alerts, statements, and letters follow as well as further resources from around the Church.

Action Alerts

We sent action alerts throughout the process of passing the stimulus bills, including several for the most recent and largest of those bills. These are still active for your awareness, but the only alert active now is the message thanking Congress for taking action:

  • After the passage of initial emergency federal funding, you responded to an alert asking for additional resources for vulnerable populations including prisons, indigenous communities, elderly care facilities, people with disabilities, uninsured and underinsured individuals, and documented and undocumented immigrants.
  • During negotiations for the third stimulus bill, we again asked Congress to prioritize assistance to those who need it most. You also advocated for critical hunger programs in the economic stimulus package that our long-standing partner, Bread for the World, determined would be most critical in the time ahead. We also called for a universal charitable deduction to help bolster charitable and non-profit services that serve millions of families.
  • Before the Senate unanimously passed the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history on March 25th and before the House passage which occurred two days later, we advocated for the passage of the bill in both chambers. While a bill of this scale will never be perfect, we are grateful for its bipartisan compromise and for the inclusion of several key programs.
Statements 

OGR Statement and Recommendations on COVID-19

  • Encourages everyone to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and highlights some of OGR’s legislative and policy recommendations during this time.

International Response to COVID-19

  • The Episcopal Church supports efforts to protect vulnerable populations in all countries, particularly countries that lack the resources to appropriately respond to this pandemic.

2020 Census Series: Education + COVID-19 Message

  • Within our prescheduled census series, we included the most critical message from the U.S. Census Bureau on the impact of COVID-19 and the 2020 Census.

Immigrants and COVID-19

  • Both documented and undocumented immigrants are far less likely to have access to sick leave than the general public, making them less likely to seek treatment or be able to take time off to care for themselves or a family member. Additionally, conditions in detention centers make it almost impossible for individuals to comply with recommended physical distancing practices.
Sign-on Letters

OGR joins letters alongside faith-based and secular coalition partners to highlight issues that are very important to us. Some of these are public, and some are private. We sign on to show decision makers that diverse institutions come together in support of shared priorities. 

CARES Act Overview

Key advocacy successes in the most recent stimulus package represent a broad range of ways of helping the most vulnerable. Among the most important, especially as we see unemployment numbers increase more rapidly than ever before, is the expansion of unemployment insurance.  Among our priorities was not only an increase in individual benefits, but the inclusion of millions of contractors, gig-workers, the self-employed, and many non-profit employees that are excluded from traditional unemployment insurance programs. In this work we were successful: the individual benefits will be increased by $600 per week for up to four months and the Pandemic Assistance program will include categories of workers not normally covered by unemployment insurance.

A second major success is the inclusion of non-profit organizations in the Payroll Protection Program, originally designed for small businesses. Eligibility in this program means that non-profits with less than 500 employees can apply for loans to help cover payroll and some limited other expenses for several months. If they do not layoff or furlough workers during this time, the loan can be forgiven in part or in whole. This is critically important to help employees in small businesses and non-profits stay connected to their jobs to serve their communities. It also has the benefit of reducing the demand and burden on state unemployment agencies which are already overwhelmed, and it will hopefully be an easier administrative process than letting go and re-hiring staff when this crisis is over.

Another important area where the legislation was revised to the benefit of the most vulnerable is in the cash payment program. Early drafts proposed that payments would be reduced for the poorest families because they did not pay much or any income taxes due to their low income. It was a clear injustice and illogical that an economic relief program would give less help to people simply because they were already facing hardships. The final bill does not reduce payments to families most in need, but they will likely need to apply to receive this aid. We encourage congregations, schools, and service organizations to find out how they can help people access these funds when the Treasury Department announces the process.

Food assistance is an area where our advocacy did not achieve all of our goals. While significant amounts of money have been added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the nation’s primary food assistance program), this is just so that it can meet an increase in demand. The Office of Government Relations will continue to advocate for an increase in the level of benefits provided to families. Increasing the value of the benefit would not only help feed families in need, but also support local groceries and the farms that supply them, helping to create jobs and increase economic activity at the local level.

As churches, feeding programs, shelters, and many other ministries face increased demand for assistance, they simultaneously face lower levels of giving and funding. To help faith-based and secular charitable organizations, we advocated for an expansion of the charitable giving tax deduction. The legislation granted this, allowing for an increased benefit to the wealthy who itemize their taxes to encourage those who can to give more generously. It also allows all taxpayers to deduct up to $300 to incentivize giving among the vast majority of tax filers that do not itemize. While $300 may not seem like a large amount per individual, we know that this amount multiplied by many members can have an incredibly powerful impact and help support critical ministries in the months ahead.

COVID-19 Government and Public Health Information Resource

In collaboration with other parts of the Church-wide staff and affiliate organizations, such as Episcopal Relief & Development, the Office of Government Relations is maintaining an important resource on government and public health information related to COVID-19.  You can find that information here. Additional resources on church operations in this current climate can be found on this broader COVID-19 resource from The Episcopal Church.

Other Resources
The Office of Government Relations appreciates your work and advocacy as members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network. While the EPPN, the Church’s grassroots advocacy network, normally engages in weekly action, the pace of legislation and...
March 27, 2020

The 2020 Census is now live! And it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Go to 2020Census.gov right now to fill out your census.

 

Census data contribute to the effectiveness of a number of social safety net programs designed to support those in need in different ways. These programs help Americans afford healthy foods, acquire affordable housing, and provide families financial assistance and support services. In 2018 these vital programs helped keep as many as 37 million Americans out of poverty.

On Food Assistance

One of the largest social safety net programs that rely on census data for effective implementation is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with $71,035,786,000 allocated for SNAP in FY 2015 alone. SNAP not only helps to keep millions of families out of poverty but also has massive children’s health and education benefits. Women who participated in SNAP while pregnant gave birth to fewer low weight babies than those who didn’t participate. These children were also less likely to have stunted growth, be diagnosed with heart disease, or experience obesity. Academically, students who were eligible and participated in SNAP had higher gains in reading and math skills in elementary school and an increased chance of graduating from high school than those who were eligible but did not participate in SNAP. SNAP uses household size information from the census to determine monthly benefits, averaging between $131 for a household of 1 to $506 for a household of 5.

On Housing Assistance

The Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers program allows low-income families to use vouchers to assist in paying for housing across the country, providing housing to 2.2 million low-income families. Once a low-income family has received the voucher, participants then need to locate decent housing where the property owner agrees to rent under the program. This program supports a wide margin of America’s population, as it helps the elderly, people with disabilities, children, and adults. The vouchers also drastically reduce homelessness, lift over one million people out of poverty, and give low-income families the chance to move to better housing than they previously had, which in turn benefits children developmentally, educationally, and health-wise. The Section 8 Vouchers program relies on Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative data and geographic tract data gathered from the census. These geographic tracts are broken up into three subset classifications: small town and rural, suburban and exurban, and urban.

On Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides grants to states for further assistance to needy families and is based off of low-income eligibility criteria. States can then use that funding to help needy families end the dependence on government benefits by assisting with child care, education and job training opportunities, among other services.  

These programs have allowed millions of people in the U.S. to rise out of poverty and gain access to more nutritious foods, better housing, and new employment skills. An undercounted population would mean these programs run the risk of being under-funded, resulting in many Americans being unable to make ends meet and leverage these programs to gain independence and stability.

--

This weekend is Census Worship Weekend across the country when houses of worship will encourage people to fill out the 2020 Census ahead of Census Day, April 1st. Please consider sharing this message with your congregation in any virtual services and events you have.

Additional Resources

Census Series Week 1: Why We Count
Census Series Week 2: Healthcare
Census Series Week 3: Education

Census Series Week 5: Businesses & Infrastructure

Be sure to come back to our Civic Engagement webpage for more updates throughout 2020, and don’t miss our Census Engagement Toolkit!

Work on this 2020 Census Series was led by Blair Hood, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

The 2020 Census is now live! And it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Go to 2020Census.gov right now to fill out your census.   Census data contribute...
March 24, 2020

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (commonly known as coronavirus) presents the United States with several systemic challenges. Not only does it expose gaping holes in our public health infrastructure, it also tests our ability fight disinformation, challenges our assumptions about value in the economy, and forces us to confront how our society makes illness economically catastrophic for the less well-off.

This is true for a wide variety of Americans, especially hourly wage-workers, those in the service economy, the uninsured and underinsured, and the homeless. It also applies to immigrants, be they documented or undocumented. Even in the absence of a global pandemic immigrants face a variety of obstacles to accessing the supports needed to overcome episodes of sickness.

Undocumented immigrants cannot access most means-tested public benefits, including Medicaid. Additionally, millions of undocumented individuals work in jobs that do not provide health insurance, which means if they get sick they are far less likely to seek treatment. Recently implemented policies, such as the Public Charge rule, also discourage documented immigrants from accessing health, housing, and nutrition benefits that could help lessen the blow of these challenging times. The same is true for undocumented individuals who may have U.S. citizen children who qualify for benefits. The administration recently announced that testing for coronavirus will not count against immigrants under the Public Charge rule. We applaud that announcement. At the same time, we remain concerned that the Public Charge rule will have negative impacts on people’s health and well-being.

Lack of access to paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave also makes it difficult for many immigrants to care for themselves and their loved ones in the face of illness. This is, of course, a problem faced by far too many U.S. citizens as well. As Congress passes legislation providing paid sick leave and family and medical leave, lawmakers should also extend these protections to both undocumented and documented immigrants.

We cannot forget the tens of thousands of immigrants currently in detention around the country. The urgent need to physically distance (also known as social distancing) from others makes their situation particularly precarious. This pandemic highlights the importance of finding alternatives to detention, a policy The Episcopal Church supports to ensure the dignity and humane treatment of all those under immigration removal orders.

The disruptions of SARS-CoV-2 provide an opportunity for reflection on the ways in which our standard operating procedures keep health, safety, and security out of the reach of too many people, including immigrants. Many of the proposed COVID-19 emergency policies would work well even in ordinary times. When this pandemic subsides, the United States should fill the gaps in the social safety net that leave so many vulnerable families in the lurch.

Rushad L. Thomas is the migration policy advisor in The Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (commonly known as coronavirus) presents the United States with several systemic challenges. Not only does it expose gaping holes in our public health infrastructure, it also tests our ability fight disinformation,...
March 18, 2020

On COVID-19

The U.S. Census Bureau continues to carefully monitor the situation surrounding COVID-19. The most important message at this point in time is: “It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker.”

They are coordinating with public health officials on measures moving forward and hope to maintain the important deadlines in the census data collection process. There are a number of adjustments underway, particularly around counting those in group housing and college students. Please read the Census Bureau’s most recent statement to learn more.

Education

Census data play a pivotal role in schools across the country as it impacts the level of funding in the short-term and guides medium-term planning and budgeting. Data on current and future needs enhance public school programs like special education, after-school programs, and food assistance. The census also has an effect in higher education, as regional and state officials can plan for program expansion or contraction in 2028 based on how many 10-year-old children there are in 2020. However, census history shows us that children under the age of 5 are at risk of not being counted, with up to one million children under 5 not counted in 2010. This undercounting negatively impacts U.S. public schools’ ability to provide a quality education and can result in fewer resources available from elementary school to higher education for this age cohort. In this installment of the census series, we will explore both of these dynamics, and we encourage you in your census engagement to remind people that children, even infants, must be counted too.

On Public Schools

American public schools receive funding from the federal government. Over $14 billion are given in Title I grants annually, helping public schools serve over 24 million students from low-income families and ensuring that these students are able to reach their state’s educational standards. States also receive $11.3 billion in special education grants annually, while another $13.6 billion is allocated through the National School Lunch Program, where eligible students are able to receive low-cost or free nutritionally balanced lunches. The Head Start preschool program and other federal grants improve teacher quality throughout the U.S.

Without accurate census data in 2020, it will be difficult to plan and budget for these programs for the next decade at every level. Data inform the planning to meet the needs of students across their academic career from the amount of funding for school lunches in an elementary school in 2021 to the planning for how many school buses those same students will need in 2027 when they are in high school.

On Higher Education

The impact of the census can also be seen in higher education, as federal funding is used to provide grants and loans to students. Data collected in the 2010 census shows Pell Grants and the Federal Direct Loan program were among programs that received the most federal funding and helped nearly 11.5 million students pay for higher education in the 2016-2017 academic year. The Federal Pell Grant Program, which supports students from low-income backgrounds through grants, allocated nearly $26 billion in 2019 to reduce the students’ total cost. These federal programs aid millions of undergraduate and graduate students in paying for college and are extremely important for investing in America’s future.

Undercounting children is often unintentional but tends to occur when they are living with a large, extended family or with multiple families under one roof. Public schools in communities where undercounting has occurred will plan for fewer students and receive less funding, resulting in fewer resources per student. Over the course of a decade, this can lead to substantial inequalities between school districts with accurate counts and undercounting, harming the long-term education and opportunities available to those in an undercounted school district.

As students continue through the education system, they deserve to benefit from early childhood programs and vocational or college programs supported by federal aid. The Episcopal Church has long been committed to supporting high-quality, public-school education. In 2000 General Convention passed a resolution, calling for dioceses and congregations of The Episcopal Church to work with government and civic institutions to strengthen and encourage public school initiatives. This stance was enhanced in 2006, calling upon Episcopalians at all levels to ensure governments provide adequate funding for programs combating social and economic conditions that place children at risk or diminish their ability to achieve their full potential. Helping to get an accurate 2020 census count is a significant part of following through on these resolutions. Ensuring that young children are counted enables their schools to receive critical funding, plan for the decade ahead, and reduce at least a few obstacles to equal opportunity and the American Dream.

Additional Resources

Census Series Week 1: Why We Count
Census Series Week 2: Healthcare
Census Series Week 4: Social Safety Net Programs

Census Series Week 5: Businesses & Infrastructure

Be sure to come back to our Civic Engagement webpage for more updates throughout 2020, and don’t miss our Census Engagement Toolkit!

Work on this 2020 Census Series was led by Blair Hood, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

On COVID-19 The U.S. Census Bureau continues to carefully monitor the situation surrounding COVID-19. The most important message at this point in time is: “It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—...
March 16, 2020

As COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread here at home and around the world, we are reminded of the speed with which a major pandemic can spread in today’s interconnected world. It is reported that it only takes 36 hours for pathogens to spread from remote places to major cities across the globe, an illustration of our vulnerability to outbreaks of infectious diseases in other countries as much as others’ vulnerability to outbreaks in our country.

At this moment of global crisis, The Episcopal Church calls on the U.S. government to work with multilateral institutions and other governments to ensure effective measures are taken to protect vulnerable populations in all countries. We are especially concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in low-income countries where many governments lack sufficient resources to appropriately respond. In addition to the lack of financial resources, many of these countries have health systems that will quickly be overwhelmed, reducing the ability to prevent transmission and provide healthcare to all those who need it.

We are grateful that when Congress passed an emergency funding bill for coronavirus, it included $1.249 billion for global health response. Multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations have also pledged or disbursed funds to help countries deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. As governments and international organizations respond to the spread of this virus, it is imperative to ensure that the most vulnerable populations--immunocompromised individuals, people living in poverty, and healthcare workers are provided with resources and care they need to safeguard their wellbeing. In the long-term, countries must work together to strengthen health systems and public health capabilities so that we can better prevent and contain global epidemics/pandemics.

We are also concerned about the rise of xenophobic harassment and attacks during this time. Many of our brothers and sisters of Asian-descent, including immigrants from Asia have been harassed or attacked since COVID-19 broke out. President Trump’s description of the coronavirus as a “foreign virus” during his Oval Office address only exacerbates the perception that “foreigners” are responsible for the outbreak. We denounce all displays of racism and stigmatization and encourage everyone to practice welcome and inclusion.

A central tenet of our Christian faith is love of God and love of neighbor. From healing the sick to His crucifixion, Jesus’ life exemplifies this law of love in so many ways. As Christians, we practice love when we care for people who are sick, are strangers, in prison, and all who live in poverty. Our acts of love are shown not only in service; our acts of love are also expressed when we lift our voice and advocate for the same.  

As COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread here at home and around the world, we are reminded of the speed with which a major pandemic can spread in today’s interconnected world. It is reported that it only takes 36 hours for pathogens to spread...
March 11, 2020

Christians have an obligation to care for people who are poor, sick, in prison, or strangers (Matthew 25: 34 – 46) and in times of great crisis, the federal government is an important resource to help meet a community’s needs. In response to the coronavirus COVID-19, The Episcopal Church encourages everyone to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations to prevent the spread of this virus so that we do not unintentionally harm our neighbors at home, at school, at work, or in our general community. While some individuals may be at low-risk for the disease, we must ensure we are not transmission vectors that bring the virus into a community where many are at risk.

In particular, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are the most susceptible to serious symptoms; therefore, we encourage people to also review the CDC’s recommendations for those at high risk, including limiting travel and public gatherings. While physically visiting and engaging with those at high risk can be more challenging, we encourage people to call, video chat, or write to their friends or loved ones who are quarantined so that, while they may need to be physically separated, they will not be alone.

As there is a significant amount of potentially harmful misinformation being shared on social media, we strongly recommend people rely on the CDC’s Coronavirus resources or Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center for information. All people should also familiarize themselves with the state and local public health departments and follow the recommendations of medical and public health officials. Parishes and other community organizations can find specialized recommendations from the CDC here, while guidance for schools is available here.

Legislative and Policy Recommendations

We are grateful that Congress passed emergency funding for public health programs to respond to COVID-19, but it is now time to look to the medium-term health and economic impacts of this crisis. We are deeply concerned that our nation’s healthcare and economic system align in ways that will multiply any impacts on low-income communities, the elderly, and other vulnerable people.

While cities, states, and federal agencies move to have white-collar employees work from home, building support staff, cafeteria contractors, security, and the multitudes of service sector employees that support office buildings are left with reduced hours, lower wages, little if any health care, no paid sick time, and potential lay-offs. The Episcopal Church advocates continually for a more comprehensive suite of federal programs to build an economic foundation or base-line to keep Americans from hunger, homelessness, medical bankruptcy, and other preventable tragedies.

Today, we call on Congress to follow emergency medical funding by strengthening programs that serve as an economic backstop for individuals and families and, in doing so, can help prevent domino effects that harm communities and the nation-at-large.

Among necessary short-term policies are explicit efforts to ensure that no vulnerable population is overlooked: disease does not know any social or legal boundary, and so we must protect all people with equal efforts. We are particularly concerned about:

  • Capacity and resources for prisons, indigenous communities, schools, elderly care facilities and people with disabilities which all face uniquely challenging healthcare circumstances due to long-term under-investment and neglect.
  • Funding for free testing and treatment to the underinsured and uninsured so that healthcare providers and hospitals can focus on treatment rather than administrative issues.
  • Temporary immunity from immigration enforcement so that undocumented people can seek testing and care without fear of detention or deportation. This enables them to seek needed medical attention and in so doing contribute to the safety of the entire community.
  • Termination of the Public Charge rule to encourage low-income, documented immigrants to seek care without concern for their future immigration status.
  • Cancelation of block grant pilot programs (block grants limit funding availability each year) for federal healthcare services that traditionally have more flexible funding, so they can meet periods of greater need. This will ensure public confidence and allay fears that care will be limited and funded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Long-term programs also need attention and to be rebuilt after years of neglect or acute surges in demand, including:

  • Unemployment insurance- Research from the Federal Reserve indicates that most families cannot survive the loss of even one paycheck. Unemployment Insurance, or a similar program, must be made available to the many gig-economy, service sector, hourly, seasonal and other workers who might see significant drops in their usual income due to quarantine and travel restrictions.
  • Food assistance programs- These are critically important as the most vulnerable people will need help feeding themselves and their families. Growing programs to deliver meals to the elderly are particularly important to assist this vulnerable population in limiting contact in crowded areas like grocery stores and public transit.
  • Housing assistance for the homeless or those at risk of losing their homes- This will ease the process of tracking and treating the sick and in doing so help reduce infections. Housing assistance will also help families keep their homes as disease, breakdowns in trade, and global economic tension in the energy industry threaten many people that are often geographically concentrated so that impact will be exponentially worse.
  • Schools- They need funding to develop innovative ways to teach and engage with students if closures are necessary and prolonged. We must not force ourselves to choose between the safety and education of our children.

Infectious diseases know no demographic boundary. If any group is without access to affordable, quality care, we are all at greater risk. Flexibility and technical assistance must be provided for in legislation so that local community health services can respond as their community needs grow, and where these resources do not exist, they must be created as quickly as possible.

It is widely anticipated that the number of confirmed cases will rise as testing only became widely available the week of March 9th. Evidence-based and common-sense preparations help slow the spread and provide time for medical staff to care for those in serious condition. Going beyond the preparations recommended by public health officials causes shortages, panic, and fear that can harm many. The Episcopal Church has long relied on faith and reason to provide comfort and healing in times of sickness, and we encourage everyone to embrace the spiritual resources of the Church and follow the reason of their public health officials.

 

For the Poor and the Neglected

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 826

For the Sick

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort and relieve your sick servants, and give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, that those (or N., or NN.) for whom our prayers are offered may be strengthened in their weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 260

For Social Service

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 260

For Doctors and Nurses

Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 460

Bible readings, services, and prayers for the sick can be found in The Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 453.

Christians have an obligation to care for people who are poor, sick, in prison, or strangers (Matthew 25: 34 – 46) and in times of great crisis, the federal government is an important resource to help meet a community’s needs. In response to the...
March 11, 2020

Take the 2020 Census Online Now!

Healthcare is one of the primary industries that rely on U.S. census data, and federal programs are an important way that many Americans access health care services. Medicaid and Medicare are the two largest – these programs provide health coverage for low-income Americans and Americans over 65. Together these two programs spent more than $425 billion in 2019. Census data also direct resources to other federal health programs that support vulnerable communities and populations, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Health Center Program.

In addition to federal government support for health care programs, census data provide information to the private sector, working in conjunction with the American Community Survey (ACS), to gain a better understanding of population trends and to be able to provide services as they are needed. While the primary 2020 Census form asks for basic demographic information, the American Community Survey (ACS) asks questions about employment, education, infrastructure and transportation access, and more. This survey occurs on a regular basis. When it is tied together with the census during census years, the survey is called the Combined, and together, the surveys help ensure an accurate count and a sample of more detailed information that guides much of these federal decisions on issues like healthcare. It is required to fill out both the ACS and the 2020 Census form if you receive both.

In addition to ACS data, the census combines administrative and survey data acquired from other federal agencies, state, and local governments. Without the census, the health of millions of Americans would be at risk.

The census uses the ACS to assist in determining the funding required for Medicaid and Medicare. The formula used to determine Medicaid reimbursement levels relies heavily on the average income per person of each state, while the formula for Medicare determines reimbursement rates based on how expensive it is to practice within a certain area. The ACS is also used to provide detailed data on factors that affect health, level of insurance coverage, service provided by hospitals, and fertility rates. As such, the ACS is the only available source of reliable community-level data and helps to determine where new local health facilities should be constructed and if a community is in a Health Professional Shortage Area.

In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, other federal health programs that provide vital health care for at-risk populations rely on census data. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides low-cost healthcare to 9.6 million children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Likewise, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) uses the census to provide monthly food voucher prices to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children who are at a nutrition risk. Finally, the Health Center Program uses census information to recognize underserviced areas and have created 12,000 service delivery sites across the U.S. and its territories, serving over 28 million Americans. The census has played a critical role in these smaller-scale federal programs that ensure the health and wellbeing of low-income Americans.

The census and ACS have faced a number of challenges in their attempts to obtain a fair count and accurate demographic data, which would, in turn, jeopardize the accuracy of data used to support America’s healthcare system, leading to inefficiencies and misaligned resources. Estimates show significant undercounting in the 2010 Census, missing millions of people and in particular non-white populations, including 4.9% American Indians and Alaska Natives, 2.1% of the black population, 1.5% Latinos, 1.3% Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, and 0.1% Asians.

Members of Congress should be encouraged to support the census and ensure that the information it will collect is accurate. In addition, advocates can share how the census benefits the health of all Americans. As Episcopalians, we advocate on many of these programs on a regular basis, grounded in our Church’s policies on healthcare. We can go a step beyond advocacy and help to get an accurate census count this year. Be sure to check out our toolkit and additional information on our civic engagement webpage.

Additional Resources

Census Series Week 1: Why We Count
Census Series Week 3: Education
Census Series Week 4: Social Safety Net Programs
Census Series Week 5: Businesses & Infrastructure

Be sure to come back to our Civic Engagement webpage for more updates throughout 2020, and don’t miss our Census Engagement Toolkit!

Work on this 2020 Census Series was led by Blair Hood, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

Take the 2020 Census Online Now! Healthcare is one of the primary industries that rely on U.S. census data, and federal programs are an important way that many Americans access health care services. Medicaid and Medicare are the two largest – these...
March 4, 2020

Take the 2020 Census Online Now!

The Episcopal Church urges all Episcopalians to take part in the 2020 United States Census. As an official partner, The Episcopal Church pledges to help the U.S. Census Bureau get a complete count and to help people to understand why it is so important. Starting today and for the next five weeks leading up to Census Day April 1st, we will share information about the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of the U.S. census in our communities and in our nation.

The census is a constitutionally-mandated survey, carried out every ten years, to count everyone in the U.S. exactly once and in the right place (where they usually live) and to gather important demographic information. The data from the 2020 Census will influence how an estimated $675 billion in federal funding will be allocated. Census data also guide decision-making at the state and local level and provide useful information for the private sector. An accurate census count means that resources will go to the communities that need them, and government programs and services can be more responsive.

The census data determine the apportionment of Congressional seats—in other words, the number of representatives each state will have within the House of Representatives. Apportionment allows Congressional representation to reflect the American population. Following the 2010 census, 8 states gained representatives and 10 states were allocated a smaller number of representatives.

The Episcopal Church, and other religious denominations, through the ministries we lead in our communities are well situated to reach historically hard-to-count populations, a critical goal of the Census Bureau. These groups include people experiencing homelessness, people who move frequently or live in nonstandard housing, racial and ethnic minorities, children, non-English speakers, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

These are all neighbors in our communities, and taking the census ourselves and helping others take the census is not just a selfish act but an act that can help our elderly neighbors get the services they need. It helps our children benefit from free or reduced lunch programs and access to funding opportunities for education. It ensures all of us can get representation in Congress we deserve.

Research shows that someone is more likely to take the census if they hear about it from someone they trust. Consider how you can encourage participation in the 2020 Census not just in your pews but also through the ministries in your congregation and in the wider community. You can also join a regional Complete Count Committee to connect to nearby staff and volunteers helping to get an accurate count.

Many homes in America will receive an invitation to complete the census in mid-March, and the census can be completed online, by phone, or by mail. April 1st is Census Day, and when filling out the census form, you record where you live and how many are living in your home on that day. From May to June, census workers will begin visiting homes in person of those who have not yet filled out the census.

For more information on the timeline of the U.S. Census and what to expect, check out these important dates.

Over the next installments of this series, we will be going into detail about some of the federal programs that are impacted by the census data. We will conclude this series on April 1st, Census Day, to mark this important reference point in the process.

Additional Resources

Census Series Week 2: Healthcare
Census Series Week 3: Education
Census Series Week 4: Social Safety Net Programs
Census Series Week 5: Businesses & Infrastructure

Be sure to come back to our Civic Engagement webpage for more updates throughout 2020, and don’t miss our Census Engagement Toolkit!

Work on this 2020 Census Series was led by Blair Hood, policy intern, Office of Government Relations

Take the 2020 Census Online Now! The Episcopal Church urges all Episcopalians to take part in the 2020 United States Census. As an official partner, The Episcopal Church pledges to help the U.S. Census Bureau get a complete count and to help people...