Welcome to the Domestic Policy Action Network (DPAN), your go-to news primer for current domestic issues related to Episcopal Church policy and advocacy organized by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! This bimonthly newsletter includes legislative updates on the federal budget process, protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, carbon emission reduction, and sentencing reform.
Meet the FY 2016 Congressional Budget
The federal budget process is one of the most important causes for which we advocate. This process funds critical domestic human needs and environmental programs, and demonstrates governmental priorities based on financial allocation. You may be hearing some things about the federal budget on the news, as the House and Senate have reached a budget deal for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016). While the Congressional budget resolution provides big-picture guidance on how much money should be apportioned to different program areas (such as human needs programs and military spending), the House and Senate appropriations committees will determine exactly how the overall spending level is allocated to specific programs. The President does not sign the Congressional budget resolution, but he is required to sign any appropriations legislation that lands on his desk for these spending bills to become law.
The Episcopal Church is tracking how the Congressional budget resolution proposes funds for programs that support poor and hungry people. Unfortunately, this Congressional budget does not champion the interests of vulnerable persons, and instead proposes deep cuts to education, health care, and nutrition programs. The topline amount in the Congressional budget ($1.017 trillion) complies with the 2011 Budget Control Act, which you may have heard referred to as “sequestration.” Sequestration mandates harmful budgetary cuts for both non-defense and defense programs (capping military spending at $523 billion and non-defense domestic programs at $493 billion). Interestingly, the FY 2016 Congressional budget circumvents sequestration’s caps for military spending through proposing $96 billion in additional dollars for a war fund. The Congressional budget did not propose similar sequester relief for non-defense discretionary programs.
The rubber hits the road with the appropriations process, when appropriators in the House and the Senate take the topline federal budget amount of $1.017 trillion and split it among different programmatic areas within twelve appropriations subcommittees. For these appropriation bills to become law, it appears that some additional negotiating between parties and government branches are necessary. The White House has threatened to veto any appropriations bill that does not repeal sequestration, and has also released a Presidential budget outlining administrative priorities. The President’s budget breaks the spending caps imposed through sequestration and recommends more substantial funding for crucial human needs programs. The Episcopal Church is calling on Congress to also break these spending caps so that important programs such as Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) can effectively serve poor and marginalized communities.
The Episcopal Church supports fully funding the following programs in line with the President’s budget, and will call on Congress to draw a circle of protection around these initiatives. You can raise your voice to your members of Congress and ask them to support these programs, but before picking up the phone or writing an email, be sure to educate yourself on how each program works and the population that it serves. Take some time to click through the following links to learn more about these critical human needs programs.
Meals on Wheels and other community-based supports for vulnerable seniors within Labor-HHS appropriations
Episcopal Church Policy on Federal Poverty Programs:
Affirm the support for and improvement of the federal network of programs to reduce the numbers of those living in poverty, support workers’ efforts to achieve self-sufficiency and ensure continuing benefits for those who require a safety net to feed their families (EC 3/02)
Reaffirm our commitment to provide rental and owner-occupied housing that is safe, accessible and affordable for low-income persons and their families, including persons with disabilities. (GC ’03)
Work with government and civic institutions to strengthen public schools (GC ’00)
That the General Convention continue and deepen its advocacy and…urge dioceses and congregations (often in concert with the Episcopal Public Policy Network) to advocate for legislation that provides adequate levels of support and opportunities for low-income people (GC ’09)
Call on The Episcopal Church and its members to urge Congress and other elected officials to support reentry programs for prisoners and ex-offenders (EC 3/07)
Support federal nutrition programs (EC 3/95)
Necessary Numbers to Address Climate Change
As we advance toward the Paris climate negotiations this December, some of you may be wondering the extent of carbon reduction necessary to effectively address global warming. Scientists maintain that, to avoid disastrous climate change-related damage, we must not allow the earth’s temperature to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Of course, adhering to this standard will not necessarily prevent catastrophic weather events from occurring –indeed, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change. Superstorm Sandy, devastating Hurricane Katrina, and the drowning native village of Kivalina, Alaska are grim reminders that climate change is already a dire threat to American families, not to mention vulnerable populations around the globe. If possible, we should strive to keep global temperatures well below this 2 degree benchmark.
To ensure that global temperatures do not reach the 2 degree Celsius threshold, countries around the world will have to work together to significantly reduce their carbon emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international community must limit global greenhouse gas emissions 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050. This emission reduction target won’t be easy to reach, but renewable energy sources such as wind and solar as well as energy efficiency and conservation efforts will help states to meet this goal. Already, countries around the world are pledging national carbon reduction targets in preparation for the December 2015 climate talks in Paris.
Just last month, the United States pledged to reduce national carbon emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. China has also committed to reducing CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2020 and to reach ‘peak’ carbon output no later than 2030. The European Union joins the pledges by promising to reduce carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. These countries’ pledges are short-term goals, and states must follow up with increasingly ambitious commitments throughout the century to avoid the 2 degree Celsius threshold.
Implementing domestic carbon reduction strategies are critical to fulfilling these pledges. In the United States, the Clean Power Plan provides a domestic blueprint for achieving our committed target. This plan specifies customized carbon reduction targets for every U.S. state and encourages each state to create and implement a carbon reduction plan that accounts for the economic and environmental resources available within it. If each U.S. state achieves its carbon reduction target, this will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030, strengthening our credibility within the international negotiations by helping us to fulfill our pledge.
The Episcopal Church calls on “the President and Congress to commit to a course of action, in collaboration with the other nations of the world, to lower the output of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 25% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. (GC ’09).” To achieve these international goals, let’s start with our own country. Write your governor today to express your support for the Clean Power Plan!
As you may remember, President Obama made the exciting announcement last January that he would recommend permanent Wilderness protection for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This recommendation comes in the form of a document called the Comprehensive Conservation Plan or “CCP” crafted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The President fulfilled his promise on April 3rd by completing the official Record of Decision for the CCP, transmitting his recommendation to Congress. Now, policymakers have a scientifically-grounded document to inform future decisions affecting the Coastal Plain.
Sentencing Reform Returns
It’s no secret that the Bureau of Prisons is severely overcrowded. In 1980, the federal prison system incarcerated 25,000 inmates; today it holds 209,000 persons, operating at 128% capacity and consuming one-fourth of the Department of Justice’s budget. Whether you’re a social justice advocate or a budget hawk, you will likely agree that the U.S. prison system needs serious reform.
The Smarting Sentencing Act (S. 502/H.R. 920) is a step in the right direction. This legislation would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, broaden eligibility for the federal safety valve, and make the Fair Sentencing Act (a bill that reduced sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1) retroactive so that it applies to persons who are currently imprisoned. The Smarter Sentencing Act was recently reintroduced to the 114th Congress in both the House and the Senate, and it’s time to ask your members of Congress to support this critical piece of legislation.
The Episcopal Church calls for an end to mandatory federal sentencing guidelines and for restoring the discretion of federal trial judges. Guided by these policies, you can raise your voice in support of the Smarter Sentencing Act by contacting your members of Congress today!
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