This week, the 116th session of Congress will convene. Members of Congress have their work cut out for them – most urgently, they need to find a way to end the partial government shutdown and fund the government, allowing federal workers and contractors return to their jobs.
This new Congress will bring new opportunities and chances for success, and we hope you are ready to speak out on critical legislative and policy proposals.
The Office of Government Relations is already reaching out to both new and returning members, building on existing relationships and fostering new ones, all while advocating for the priorities of The Episcopal Church, including those passed by the 79th General Convention.
We look forward to equipping you to be effective advocates on environmental issues, an area where General Convention identified new areas for engagement. We will continue raising our voices together to ensure the dignity of all people, including immigrants and refugees. We will work to connect with our brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion to urge the U.S. government to use its leverage for peacebuilding, reconciliation, and justice. And we will promote the values of the Episcopal Church in Washington, urging our representatives to enact policies that help, rather than harm, the most vulnerable among us.
Guided by the long-term perspective emphasized in the For Such a Time Campaign to Pray, Fast and Act, we will continue to push for policies that ensure the U.S. government supports the hungry, homeless, and those in need of healthcare. We are hopeful the 116th Congress will be able to tackle the opioid crisis, put forward legislation that seeks to end violence against women, and fund infrastructure in a way that helps poor and marginalized communities.
Finally, we want to share three Green Postcard Reports to highlight successes from the end of 2018, including the Farm Bill, the FIRST STEP Act, and the Global Compact on Refugees. Check out the postcards and their text below.
We thank you for engaging with the 115th Congress alongside our office and invite you to join us as we lift our Episcopal voice to new and returning members in the 116th Congress.
115th Congress passes Farm Bill
The Farm Bill is a key piece of legislation impacting farmers, agriculture, and domestic and international food assistance, and must be renewed about every five years. We applaud the 115th Congress for passing this legislation–which authorizes $867 billion for food assistance, subsidies, and agricultural development. Critically, the bill maintains protections for the vulnerable and hungry that you have been advocating for.
The law also sets policy for land conservation, crop insurance, and other agricultural initiatives which seek to promote more sustainable agricultural practices. Internationally, the Farm Bill improves food aid by allowing for the purchase of food from local farmers and food markets.
Ensuring all people have enough to eat must continue to be a focus of our advocacy, and as the For Such a Time Campaign to #PrayFastAct emphasized, this takes long-term, strategic engagement. We hope you will continue to advocate along with us, even as we celebrate the protections we achieved together in the 2018 Farm Bill!
115th Congress passes FIRST STEP Act
Criminal justice reform has long been a priority of the Episcopal Church, and we are pleased that the 115th Congress passed the FIRST Step Act, critical legislation that addresses some of the failings in the criminal justice system. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, and organizations from across the political spectrum endorsed the bill.
This legislation increases funding for prison rehabilitation and educational programs, prohibits the shackling of pregnant women, improves the use of compassionate release for elderly and terminally ill individuals, and improves access to recidivism-reducing rehabilitation programs. Additionally, the bill retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act, addresses the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine offenses. Thousands of people will be eligible to rejoin their families and communities over the next decade.
The bill is not perfect, but it is a move in the direction of a more restorative and fair criminal justice system. At the Office of Government Relations, we ask for your help as we continue to advocate for justice system built on dignity for all humans.
UN General Assembly adopts Global Compact on Refugees
In December, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees, demonstrating consensus within the international community on how countries can assist refugees and displaced persons. The compact emphasizes that responding to people fleeing persecution is a shared responsibility, and it seeks to ensure that hosting countries have the resources they need to respond. The Global Compact also aims to expand resettlement opportunities, combat xenophobia, and establish a means to track progress.
The Episcopal Church engaged with member states to advance these international commitments to protections. Longstanding General Convention policy emphasizes our obligation as a Church to protect vulnerable persons by calling on all governments to keep their commitments and legal obligations to respect the rights and dignity of all people. The adoption of the Global Compact signifies a united commitment to supporting the well-being of refugees and their host communities.