Welcome to the Domestic Policy Action Network (DPAN), your go-to news primer for current domestic issues related to Episcopal Church policy and advocacy work organized by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! This bimonthly edition offers an exciting announcement concerning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an overview of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, and an introduction to the Fiscal Year 2016 Federal Budget process.
President Obama Advances Protections for the Arctic
On January 25th, after months of anticipation, the Obama Administration released the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The long-awaited CCP not only offered conservation guidance for Refuge management, but also recommended a formal "wilderness" designation for the Coastal Plain, a region of the Arctic that our General Convention has said should be protected from harmful oil exploration. This announcement comes on the heels of a strong faith advocacy push for the CCP's release. Well done, Episcopal advocates!
Now that the Administration has offered a wilderness endorsement, Congress should act quickly to implement this recommendation. The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act was reintroduced to the 114th Congress on January 9th as HR 239, and this legislation would offer permanent protection for the Coastal Plain. Let's use the momentum generated by the CCP's release to push for wilderness legislation in Congress.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization
The Episcopal Church supports federal nutrition programs for children, and this year, we have a special opportunity to strengthen child nutrition legislation that is set to expire in September of 2015.
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act affects millions of low-income children on a daily basis, offering them access to free or reduced price meals that improve their health, educational achievement, and physical development. The Act encompasses a number of federal programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Afterschool Snack and Meal Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women's, Infants, and Children (you've likely heard this program referred to as "WIC"). Unsurprisingly, this Act authorizes a plethora of key feeding programs that The Episcopal Church supports.
The Episcopal Church backs child nutrition programs because these initiatives serve some of the most vulnerable populations among us: the young, the poor, and the hungry. The Church has passed several resolutions demonstrating our support for child nutrition programs, including:
- "Endorse the NCC policies on the rights of the child" (2006-B018)
- "Call on the Government to Reorder Budget Priorities to Alleviate Hunger" (1985-A080)
- "Guiding Principles for Governmental Legislation" (EC 2/95)
The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization process allows legislators the opportunity to reexamine and improve upon these programs, ideally strengthening them for future participants. Every five years, the House and Senate begin the review process in committee. On the House side, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education is responsible for initiating the review, while the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Food and Agricultural Research takes up the review in the Senate.
There are a few key principles that The Episcopal Church and our partners are advocating for in the 2015 review process. First, we want to ensure that funding for these nutrition programs does not come out of other important human needs programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It is essential that any "pay-for's" included in the reauthorization do no harm to other human needs programs! Second, we are eager to see legislators make these feeding programs more accessible to low-income children, children in preschool and childcare, and youth who are out of school on holiday break. Finally, we will advocate that the services provided in each feeding program are based on strong nutrition standards grounded in scientifically-reviewed data.
Want to get involved? There are several ways that you can be a powerful advocate for child nutrition. Consider trying one or more of the following actions:
- Organize and attend a meeting with your members of Congress at their local offices
- Write a letter to the editor detailing why this issue is important to you as an Episcopalian
- Organize a community call
- Host a forum in your congregation explaining what the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act is and how others can become involved in the reauthorization process
- Remember, we want to ensure that any "pay for's" in this reauthorization do not come out of other key human needs programs, that legislators work to make these programs more accessible to vulnerable communities, and that nutrition standards are based on scientific research.
The Federal Budget Outlook for 2016
While we are at the beginning of the budget process for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016), it's important to take note of budgetary trends that will affect this debate moving forward. In the media, Americans are hearing a lot about "cutting the deficit" or "balancing the budget". While it is important to be fiscally responsible, we must not reduce the deficit at the expense of vulnerable communities.
Average federal spending for low-income programs (other than health care) as a percent of the national GDP is on track to reach a forty-year low within the next decade. 77% of recent policy initiatives to reduce the deficit came through cuts to federal programs, many of which provide important services to low-income communities. It's time to stop trimming human needs programs, and instead place vulnerable citizens at the center of the budget debate. Let's ensure that the FY 2016 budget accounts for people living in poverty.
Specifically, let's ensure that entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicaid are not cut, capped, or restructured in ways that harm beneficiaries. We must also draw a circle of protection around key human needs programs that are funded through the appropriations process, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Keeping these priorities in mind, we should also be aware of the budget timetable for 2015. On February 2nd, President Obama released his Presidential Budget, which Congress will review and assess as members create their own budget resolution that will likely pass in the spring. Please stay tuned as DPAN reviews the particulars of both the Presidential and the Congressional Budgets.
Now is a good time to begin the budget conversation with your members of Congress, asking them to protect federal initiatives for vulnerable communities, and to reject budget reductions or programmatic restructuring that increases poverty or limits access to health care. You can call them, write to them, or better yet, arrange in-person meetings at their local offices.
- Research how your members of Congress have voted on budget issues in the past! Find your members here
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