DHN Coalition Letter to Congress: Nutrition and Emergency Assistance

January 15, 2009

Members of the United States Congress
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Member of Congress,

The needs of our nation’s most vulnerable members become increasingly critical as job losses escalate and states face dwindling revenue. The economic tragedy is no longer limited to low-wage workers and members of other vulnerable groups. When these groups suffer, we are all affected. We must work to enhance the common good for the benefit of all families and communities with an emphasis on those most in need. We are pleased by the House of Representatives’ proposed package, but there remain significant opportunities for improvement.

As members of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, in devotion to our common religious traditions of justice and compassion, we urge you to champion the needs of those struggling to remain in homes, feed and care for their children and live with human dignity. Our shared scriptures teach us that evidence of the spirit of the Lord with us is our care for the most vulnerable.

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor (Is 61:1)

We therefore call on you to increase funding for nutrition programs, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, housing assistance programs, and home energy assistance. We also urge you to modernize and extend unemployment insurance and provide more aid to states for Medicaid before the February home work period.

Nutrition Assistance: Increasing nutrition assistance will not only prevent crises in many American families but will also stimulate our economy. For every $1 invested in food stamp benefits, $1.73 is generated in increased economic activity, making food stamps one of the most effective stimulus measures available. Our nation’s other anti-hunger programs also become increasingly critical as more and more families face economic insecurity. We therefore urge you to increase:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) by $450 million for FY 2009 to keep up with rising food costs and participation and to provide funding to meet expected caseloads for FY 2010 so that no one is turned away from the program.
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefit levels by 20% for two years;
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) by $30 million to cover additional food costs for the 444,000 elderly clients;
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) for $165 million annually to replenish declining food inventories and cost of distribution to meet the growing need of families across the country; and
- Supplemental Nutrition Program Information Systems, to improve the ability of states to manage increasing caseloads.

Housing: Nearly 61% of local and state homeless coalitions say they've seen a rise in homelessness since the home foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to an April study by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Investing in housing not only provides relief to families hardest hit by the recession, it also creates hundreds of thousands of new jobs and preserves neighborhoods and communities. Without safe and affordable housing, families will struggle to meet other basic human needs such as nutrition, healthcare and home heating. We therefore urge you to provide $45 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, housing vouchers and homelessness prevention programs as well as programs designed to rehabilitate public housing to keep families from being forced out of safe shelter as they weather the economic crisis.

Emergency Food and Shelter: Nutrition needs are amplified by natural disasters. Today, too many families are struggling to find shelter and feed their loved ones. We therefore urge you to support more funding for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) to help families begin to recover from recent storms and floods.

Home Energy Assistance: We are grateful that Congress provided $5.1 billion for LIHEAP in FY2009; however, with energy prices skyrocketing and winter in full effect, more and more low-income families are again searching for a way to heat their homes. Though the demand is high—and getting higher— the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) served only one in six eligible families in 2008. We therefore urge you to increase funding for LIHEAP by an additional $2.5 billion, which will allow another 3.5 million households have a safe winter.

Unemployment Insurance: Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has grown by 3.6 million, with 1.6 million in the past four months alone. Just last month the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent, from 6.8 percent. The number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks of more, meaning their regular Unemployment Insurance benefits have expired) grew by 1.3 million in 2008. Underemployment is estimated to be above 13 percent. In the current economic climate, jobs are hard to come by and unemployment insurance plays an important role in preventing families from falling into economic crisis. We therefore urge you to:
- Extend Unemployment Insurance (UI) through December 31, 2009;
- Modernize and expand UI by calculating eligibility based on most recent earnings and enabling more people to qualify, including:
o those only able to seek part-time work,
o those who have left the workforce due to family emergencies,
o those who do not currently qualify due the inability to meet the minimum 20 weeks of work in the past 12 months.

Unemployment benefits have proven to stimulate the economy as those who receive these benefits are most likely to spend them immediately, supporting their local businesses. The return rate is seen to be $1.64 for every dollar invested in the program.

Aid to States for Programs Serving Vulnerable People: State and local governments are facing terrible budgetary choices due to falling revenues and rising needs. Many are considering deep cuts in child health programs, Medicaid, programs for abused and neglected children, and child care, among other needed services. Because Medicaid, the healthcare program that provides vital healthcare to people who are desperately in need (elderly adults, people with disabilities, and low-income families), is one of the largest budget items of most states, it is a likely target for cuts to close budget deficits. We therefore urge you to help states prevent these cuts and address health care needs by increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) by $100 billion through the end of FY2010.

We also urge you to support $75 billion in additional temporary fiscal relief to states for programs such as child care, education and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Everyday faith organizations serve individuals in need within our communities. However, we cannot meet the growing need alone. Our efforts must be complemented by policies and funding levels that recognize the hardships faced by millions of families across the country. Before leaving for the President’s Day recess, please do your part to be sure that families do not have to make impossible choices between feeding their children, heating their homes, and filling their prescriptions in the coming months.

Respectfully,

Bread for the World
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Mennonite Central Committee - Washington Office
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Jewish Women
NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries