OGR COVID-19 Advocacy Newsletter May 2020
We write to you to share news about the ongoing work of the Office of Government Relations. Things have changed dramatically over the past few months, but in many ways, our work continues much the same, although with greater urgency and intensity. We continue to reach out to Congressional offices and to meet virtually with Congressional staff. We are sending action alerts, releasing statements, and developing resources including webinars and multi-week series to help us all dive in to the various facets of an issue.
In this month’s newsletter, you will find an analysis of where things stand on plans for the ongoing census and the election, and more information about the issues The Episcopal Church has spoken up on.
We also want to share the bittersweet news that Jack Cobb, after three years in our office, will be returning to government service. You can find more information about his new position and the important work he will be doing there below.
Jack has been a tremendous colleague, collaborator, and contributor to the work of OGR and the broader Church. Since July of 2017, Jack has helped Episcopalians to advocate for healthcare, tax reform, food assistance, criminal justice reform, and anti-poverty efforts and has led efforts to stop legislation that would permit drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Jack worked on significant gun safety legislation that passed the House and helped to secure funding for HBCUs. He prepared bishops for Congressional testimony on reparations and drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Thanks in part to his efforts and those of other faith-based advocates, we have seen the Speaker of the House refer to environmental work as caring for creation. All of this work has been done in partnership with ecumenical and interfaith partners and secular allies and would not be possible without the commitment of advocates like you. Please join us in wishing him the best!
Finally, during these times of uncertainty for all of us, we are more appreciative than ever of the work you do as advocates.
Director, Office of Government Relations
Message from Jack Cobb, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Government Relations:
After almost three years with the Office of Government Relations (OGR), I will be leaving my position this week to return to the career civil service at the U.S. Department of Commerce. The opportunity to work alongside Episcopalians, colleagues on the Presiding Bishop’s staff, and affiliated national organizations has been a great honor. Helping lead Episcopalians’ response to domestic and environmental policy issues at OGR has been an incredible opportunity to learn from many members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network who are so generous with their time and expertise. I am grateful for everything members of the EPPN have done to support OGR in our work and ensure our Church’s positions are heard by federal lawmakers. I am excited to transition to being an active member of the EPPN and continuing to work alongside you all.
OGR Action alerts
In the last few weeks, we have sent alerts to the EPPN to ask Congress to take action on a variety of issues directly and indirectly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent reporting has shown that infection rates in Navajoland surpass those of any state on a per capita basis. We have therefore pushed for supporting Indigenous communities.
The Supreme Court will be releasing a decision on DACA in the coming weeks, but we are urging Congress to pass protections for Dreamers, regardless of the decision.
OGR Statements and Resources
Misinformation, Disinformation, Fake News: Why Do We Care? (April 2)
This resource offers practical advice on how to identify and stop the spread of misinformation and details how misinformation is derailing important conversations about COVID-19, elections, vaccinations, and other pressing societal issues.
Refugees and COVID-19 (April 23)
Refugees remain one of the most vulnerable populations across the globe, and the COVID-19 pandemic only magnifies this vulnerability. Limited housing and health services in refugee camps increase the risk of rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, and insufficient funding for domestic and international refugee assistance programs limits preventative actions aid organizations can take.
Statement on President Trump’s Recent Immigration Executive Order (April 24)
The Episcopal Church recognizes that migration has always been part of the human condition, and as people called to love the stranger, we continue to stand firm in upholding the fundamental human rights of all people and protecting family unity even in times of uncertainty and crisis.
The Dangers of Detention During COVID-19 (May 11)
The Episcopal Church supports alternatives to immigration detention centers even in normal times, but the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic lends an urgency to addressing this crisis now. Crowded living conditions in detention centers make it almost impossible to practice social distancing or to self-isolate if an individual gets sick, putting the health and lives of immigrants, detention center workers, and the broader community at risk.
Director of the Office of Government Relations, Rebecca Blachly, participated in a panel hosted by the Diocese of Chicago’s Anti-Racism Commission entitled “On COVID-19, Health Disparities and Systemic Racism: How do we respond as people of faith?” We have seen the disproportionate impact in the U.S. as the pandemic reveals underlying inequity and structural racism. Read about our policy recommendations here. We have the opportunity to push for concrete policy recommendations that will begin to address disparities in access to healthcare, food and housing insecurity, criminal justice reform, and many other issues. You can read the coverage of the event here.
Along with Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Office of Government Relations hosted two webinars.
- Episcopal DACA Action Day: this webinar facilitated conversations with DACA Episcopalians and included a policy briefing, advocacy training, and collective action to ask Congress to pass the Dream Act.
- Immigrant Detention during COVID-19: Prophetic Action & Compassionate Response: this webinar, taking place today, May 19 at 4pm EST, will include clergy and lay leaders from various dioceses with professional and ministry background in different models of detention visitation ministry. Registration is required and available here.
On Title VII
In October 2019, the Supreme Court heard three cases asking whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—which outlaws discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex—includes protections for the LGBT community. In support of an end to discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, The Episcopal Church submitted an Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court in partnership with a broad faith-based coalition. We argue that the question before the Court is whether to uphold the inherent dignity of LGBT persons equally with the inherent dignity of all other members of society, and we rejected the claim that prohibiting discrimination against LGBT persons in any way undermines fundamental rights of religious belief or practice.
The EPPN continues to advocate for the Equality Act, legislation that passed the House in May 2019 and would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Episcopal Church, with the guidance of the Office of Government Relations, has continued to raise its voice along with our secular and faith-based partners on a plethora of key issues. Presiding Bishop Curry has also signed on to two letters recently asking Congress to pass legislation to support struggling households and asking Congress to provide additional funding for our elections.
- Congress Must Act to Ensure a Free, Fair and Safe Election
- Congress must quickly pass fourth COVID-19 response bill addressing the needs of struggling households (Circle of Protection)
The Episcopal Church:
- Call on State Department to protect human rights in Myanmar in the face of COVID-19
- Call for Borrower Protections during COVID-19 Crisis
- Protect voting rights during COVID-19
- Support continued U.S. funding to World Health Organization (WHO)
- Letter to Senate committees on UNFPA funding (no URL available)
- Letter to Appropriations committees on foreign assistance (no URL available)
- Faith Community Letter on COVID-19 Debt Relief
- Refugee-related requests for future COVID-19 legislation
- Protect incarcerated people and their families during the COVID-19 crisis
On Civic Engagement
It is not too late! You can still respond to the Census, if you haven’t already, online at 2020Census.gov, or by returning the form you may have received in the mail. The more of us who self-respond now, the less work remains for in-person Census workers. We are continuing to monitor updates on the Census timeline and other needs for completing an accurate 2020 count.
There are two additional items that may be of particular interest to recent graduates.
- The Census Bureau is still hiring for several different temporary positions to help conduct the 2020 Census. These offer competitive pay and may be perfect for recent grads!
- Counting College Students: this fact sheet along with this video details how and where college students should be counted in the 2020 Census.
We are advocating to Congress for funding to support states’ adjustments expanding mail-in voting and improving health security measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are conducting direct meetings with Senate offices, are networking within our coalitions focused on this work, and have joined several sign-on letters about voting rights. As many election policies are determined at the state level, we encourage you to educate yourself on and monitor developments in your state or territory concerning the November election and the remaining primaries.
As always, we are updating our civic engagement resources available on our website and will be releasing a number of new versions of our toolkits in the coming days.
Episcopal News Service Coverage
- Presiding Bishop joins other Christian leaders in call for mail-in voting funding
- Episcopal Church voices support for DACA recipients as Supreme Court decision looms
- Diocese of Chicago hosts discussion on injustice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: What is the church called to do?
For additional information, please visit OGR's Government and Advocacy Resources on COVID-19 page.