2008 legislative priorities report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When President Obama signed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) into law this month he brought the number of successful 2008 legislative priorities of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) to four. SCHIP had been preceded last year by successful advocacy on behalf of giving ex-offenders a second chance, increasing affordable housing, and reauthorizing President Bush’s AIDS funding.

Both the AIDS funding and SCHIP proved to be significant accomplishments because the former increased funding and the latter increased the number of children covered by millions.

These successes were tempered with disappointment, however, on other priorities. The war in Iraq still goes on, global poverty continues unabated, and global warming remains a hot political potato no one seems to want to catch.

Reauthorize President's AIDS Plan

President Bush signed the $48 billion dollar reauthorization bill for global AIDS legislation. The bill will provide $5 billion to address malaria over a five-year period as well as $4 billion for tuberculosis. The remainder will be spent to tackle global AIDS through prevention, care and treatment.

It is a huge sign to the world that the United States is serious about the eradication of this disease.

“It is a huge sign to the world that the United States is serious about the eradication of this disease,” said Linda Bales, director of the Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project at GBCS. “Approximately $3 billion is authorized for children with AIDS or other vulnerable children, and is projected to assist five million children, twice the number over the previous five-year period.”

Money will also go for training and deployment of health-care workers, something Bales described as “desperately needed in AIDS-plagued African nations.” In addition, she said the bill overturns the ban on travel into the United States of people living with AIDS.

“United Methodists around the country mobilized to raise their support for this bill and it paid off,” Bales said.

Give Ex-offenders a 2nd Chance

Bill Mefford, director of GBCS’s Civil and Human Rights work area, celebrated the passage of the “2nd Chance Act.” He explained that the bill, “if it is fully funded,” will provide ex-offenders coming out of prison access to programs in housing, employment, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“While there is still much work that remains in order to urge Congress to fully fund this important legislation,” Mefford said, “we applaud the first step Congress has taken towards reforming the criminal justice system.”

Protect Children’s Health

When President Obama signed SCHIP into law, he described the bill that expands health-care coverage for children as a downpayment on reform. The law maintains government aid for seven million children, and provides an additional four million children with coverage. It also removes the ban on states providing insurance to legal immigrant children.

Children’s health was a priority issue for United Methodists last year.

“Children’s health was a priority issue for United Methodists last year,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of GBCS’s Alcohol, Other Addictions and Health Care work area. “Many people contacted their members of Congress to ask them to support reauthorization of SCHIP.”

Abrams pointed out that another of her priorities, funding for the “Sober Truth in Preventing Underage Drinking,” was also achieved. “In the near future, we can expect to see unveiling of a major campaign against underage drinking,” she predicted.

Another important children’s health initiative, regulation of tobacco by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stalled in the Senate, according to Abrams. The House passed the legislation by an overwhelming bipartisan margin, but the Senate failed to act.

GBCS, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries Women’s Division and the General Commission on United Methodist Men were among nearly 30 faith-based signers of a letter to U.S. Senators that urged them to pass the legislation authorizing FDA regulation of tobacco products.

Increase Affordable Housing

“By the end of last year, Roget himself would have had a hard time coming up with a synonym that wasn’t overused to describe the bleak housing market,” assessed John Hill, director of GBCS’s Economic and Environmental Justice work area. “Analysts, policy-makers and homeowners alike exhausted every conceivable negative phrase to indicate the size and scope of the housing troubles facing the United States.”

Roget himself would have had a hard time coming up with a synonym that wasn’t overused to describe the bleak housing market.

Amid the rhetoric and ongoing financial storms, Hill pointed out that an important housing victory was secured: establishment of the National Housing Trust Fund.

For nearly a decade, advocates have been working to secure a dedicated stream of funds for affordable housing, according to Hill. He said that thanks to the persistent advocacy of a broad coalition under the umbrella of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Congress passed and the president signed into law legislation that establishes a funding mechanism to build, rehabilitate or renovate units for low-income households.

“While the establishment of the fund is a major success story,” Hill said, “the celebrations were tempered only by the realization that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the mechanisms for funding, were among the hardest hit institutions in the current housing downturn.”

As they struggle to regain their footing and Congress works to address the broader housing market dilemma, Hill said GBCS will continue “to seek funding to capitalize and jump start this important affordable housing initiative so we can stay on track to meet the goal of 1.5 million affordable homes in the next ten years.”

End the War in Iraq

Mark Harrison, director of GBCS’s Peace with Justice work area, said he had some good news and some bad news as far as the war in Iraq is concerned. “The House of Representatives passed legislation with a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq,” he said. “But the Senate failed to pass similar legislation.”

Harrison said that no timetable for withdrawal was approved by the House. But he pointed out, the United States and Iraq did reach an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops in 2011. Congress did approve more financial assistance for U.S. veterans from the war, which GBCS supported.

End Global Poverty

Harrison said the House passed the “Global Poverty Act,” a bill that requires the president to develop a strategy to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015. “The Senate failed to pass the bill, though,” he said. “As a consequence, the act did not become law.”

Reduce Global Warming Pollution

The strongest global warming bill ever to make it to the Senate floor failed to get enough support to come to a vote last summer. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act contained carbon-reduction targets tougher than business wanted, but less demanding than environmentalists wanted. Nonetheless, its failure to come to a vote was disheartening on one front for its supporters, but heartening on another in how far the bill advanced before its demise.

Strongest global warming bill ever to make it to the Senate floor failed to get enough support to come to a vote.

“GBCS supports comprehensive legislation to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,” Hill emphasized. “In 2007 Congress increased U.S. fuel efficiency standards. It must now move forward with comprehensive legislation that reduces emissions while protecting the most vulnerable from the impacts of climate change and adverse potential price impacts of it.”

International program board

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church, which has more than 11 million members worldwide. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education and Leadership Formation, United Nations and International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations in New York City.

GBCS’s program staff sponsors “Action Networks” that provide information on advocacy issues. Joining a network is free. The networks provide legislative updates, advocacy resources and identify opportunities to take action.

Action Networks address: “AIDS,” “Alcohol and Other Addictions,” “Civil and Human Rights,” “Economic Justice,” “Environmental Justice,” “Health and Wholeness,” “Peace with Justice,” “United Methodists Against the Death Penalty,” “United Nations” and “Women and Children.”

Information is distributed via e-mail. You can subscribe to any or all of the networks.

You can join a network the following ways: by mail to General Board of Church & Society, 100 Maryland Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; by fax to (202) 488-5639; or online at www.umpower.org or www.umc-gbcs.org, click on My GBCS.

For more information, go to My GBCS on the GBCS website, http://www.umc-gbcs.org or co,ntact Donna Brandyberry: (202) 488-5641 or via e-mail to dbrandyberry@umc-gbcs.org.

Editor's note: Information about this year's priorities was in Faith in Action's Jan. 26 issue: "2009 legislative priorities — Systemic reform woven throughout".

Letter to the Editor