If you are reading this, the rapture did not occur today as was predicted by yet another group claiming to understand biblical prophecy. According to Christian numerologist David Meade, all the planets are in the right alignment for the Apocalypse to begin and Christ to return gathering believers together in the sky. Well, I’m sorry if we all missed it but, while we wait, we still have important work to do for the Kingdom of God.
Saturday was April 21st, another day to remember the initiative “For Such a Time as This”. While we may be a few days behind schedule, we’re not too late to join our brothers and sisters to #PrayFastAct. This month we are focusing on Economic Opportunity Initiatives. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) describes this month’s call this way:
The Episcopal Church and the ELCA continue our united call to Pray, Fast and Act in support of good policies and programs that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of all people.
This month, our focus is on economic opportunity initiatives. Although the U.S. government facilitates a variety of programs, all too often families find it nearly impossible to break out of poverty. Many families work low-wage and low-skill jobs, yet still struggle to keep up with their needs.
The 2018 federal poverty level for a family of two–like a single parent with one child—is $16,460. Sadly, many families are in this group of working poor. Though some individuals can work hard 40-hour weeks and 52-weeks a year, they still can be below the poverty line.
For example, a person working 40-hours a week and 52-weeks a year at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 a year. These positions almost never provide paid vacation or sick time and often not even federal holidays, and not all are lucky enough to have consistent full-time work throughout the 52-week year. In Congressional testimony last month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce heard that this working poor represent 80% of people receiving government assistance.
Education as a means of economic opportunity to increase wages and gain better employment is one means of helping this demographic gain upward mobility.
We are asked to…
- PRAY for the working poor of our nation, that while they fight to keep their families housed, fed, and clothed, we may fight to provide them with educational opportunities.
- FAST in solidarity with those who while they labor tirelessly still struggle to provide for themselves and their families. Help us remember that though they are working, they are unable to access education and training which would open greater opportunities to support themselves and their families.
- ACT by urging Congress to pass robust federal funding for educational programs!
The Office of Government Relations of The Episcopal Church prepared a paper for us to understand the situation better:
Economic Opportunity, Education, and Poverty
On March 15th, Dr. Heather Hahn of the Urban Institute provided testimony to the House Committee on Higher Education and the Workforce on the issue of work requirements and welfare programs. In her testimony she provided analysis that
found that 80% of able bodied adults receiving assistance through the SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF programs were either working or between jobs. Her analysis found that low-skill and low-wage work has become increasingly unstable and unpredictable – resulting in families cycling on and off of programs or earning wages so low they need assistance even while working.
Cyclical poverty is a problem faced by millions of Americans, and one study found that of those who manage to work themselves above the poverty line, 36% were back in poverty within four years. It is most pronounced among the working poor, who cannot access education and training because they need a paycheck to feed their family, and often there are too few educational opportunities accessible to them. Because many do not have higher levels of training for skilled trades that earn more, they can barely afford to feed their families. This cycle can trap Americans in poverty for multiple generations, as research shows the longer one spends in poverty the lower their chances of moving up.
While some in Congress have proposed adding requirements that the working poor must be working to receive assistance, this will not help lift families out of cyclical poverty. In order to break the cycle, we must invest in education – from early childhood to trade schools and community colleges. As the economy grows and changes, millions of jobs with wages that can support a family become available. Yet many these jobs require some level of specialized training or certification such as IT, welding, automated manufacturing, plumbing, or others.
To help the working poor, Congress must invest in programs that support people while they study and make educational and training resources more effective and accessible. In doing so, we will empower people to not need government assistance in the future as they become equipped to work jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families, providing greater opportunities for their children. Investing in education, and the programs that support and make it possible for adults and parents to gain an education, is a necessary way for our nation to truly help the poor and reduce long-term demands for welfare spending since people will no longer need these programs.
Federal investments in education and training take place in dozens of programs across multiple departments. For example, the Department of Education provides grants to states for elementary education, while the Department of Labor funds many community college and training programs, and the Department of Agriculture funds other workforce programs for welfare recipients. In FY2019, Congress will have the opportunity to invest an additional $18 billion across various domestic, non-defense, programs.
In order to prepare our children to succeed, address historic injustices, and ensure a stable foundation for the national economy, education and workforce development must be prioritized in the allocation of the additional $18 billion in FY19 funding.
These investments will make primary education more comprehensive, secondary and higher education more accessible, and training in the skills necessary for family supporting wages attainable
If you’ve been following the news in Michigan, you know that just this week our State Senate passed a bill that requires able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work, receive job training or education for at least 29 hours a week or risk losing their health care benefits. Pregnant women, individuals receiving unemployment benefits or disability benefits, and caretakers of children under 6 years of age will be exempt from this requirement. The bill will go to the State House this week.
While the requirement for education and job training sounds like a positive approach in curbing the cycle of poverty, the state seems to have overlooked the other challenges faced by those in poverty: responsible child care, reliable transportation, availability of jobs that pay enough for a family to live, etc. Some of the individuals receiving benefits as a result of the Medicaid Expansion have reported that they would choose to lose their health coverage rather than give up caring for their grandchildren.
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press on April 18th, Ms. Claire Maitre, a 62 year-old Scio township resident who cares for her two grandsons while their parents work, reported: “I can’t help my son and daughter-in-law in paying off their debt with money, but I can help keep their child-care costs at a minimum,” she said. “I am on government assistance for health care coverage. But if I have to choose between a paying job, instead of grandsons, I’d choose to go without health insurance. This will leave many children in unsafe conditions and rob them of their caregivers.”
If this decision becomes common, the loss of health insurance for many will put a strain on our hospital emergency departments again and ultimately cost the state and the tax payers significantly more. The bill also does not address the cost of education or availability of job training. This bill is not the answer to ending the cycle of poverty.
Let’s join together now to #PrayFastAct. It’s easy to contact our legislators by going to the EPPN page and filling in the requested personal info. Then EPPN will send the letters to the right individuals in Congress. It only takes a few minutes and can make a world of good.
Let us pray together –
Almighty God, who has so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide
us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council