Thursday, May 29, 2014

More Meals for Hungry Kids

Community Eligibility: Fighting Child Hunger and Building Stronger School Meal Programs
By Anne Fyffe

Kaylee, a nine-year-old from Texas, speaks honestly to the importance of free meals at school when she says that "when I go home, we don't have that much food...when I come here, I can eat." Kaylee is just one of nearly 32 million children who rely on free or reduced-price school meals every day at school.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a long tradition of advocacy on behalf of children and is committed to the goal of ending childhood hunger. The PC(USA) recognizes the importance of federal nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast programs, as part of the path to achieving this goal (General Assembly Minutes, 1996, p.784).

Community eligibility is a new opportunity for schools in areas that experience high levels of poverty to provide free breakfast and lunch to all of their students. The community eligibility provision (CEP) was previously only available in 11 states, but beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent "identified student" threshold will qualify to participate in this option. You can find a list of eligible schools here. The deadline for school districts to notify their state agency that they want to participate in CEP for the 2014-2015 school year is June 30, 2014.

Take Action: Find out if your schools are eligible here! Click here to write an op-ed to your local newspaper in support of community eligibility. For more links, scroll down.

How Community Eligibility Works
Community eligibility is a win-win for students and schools. Designed to help schools in high-poverty areas, it ensures that all children have access to healthy food at school. Community eligibility removes the families’ and schools’ burden of submitting paper applications to enroll students in school meal programs in high-poverty communities. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of "identified students" who participate in additional federal benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp Program) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, among others. Typically, more than 75 percent of students who go to schools that qualify for community eligibility receive  free or reduced-price meals, so this is a great opportunity to make sure that 100 percent of children are getting the food they need to thrive.

Benefits for Children, Schools, and Communities
Community eligibility has been successful in increasing the number of students eating meals each day and in changing the way that schools provide food service, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). School districts can increase meal program participation, bring staff costs down, eliminate bad debt from unpaid student meal fees, and cut down on administrative costs associated with printing and processing paper applications.

School food service workers will no longer have to confront, and sometimes take food away from children who have unpaid fees on their accounts and administrators and families will no longer have to bear the burden of submitting paper applications. Most importantly, this program removes the stigma of receiving free meals at school and children will no longer have trouble paying attention in class because they are hungry.

Schenectady City School District, NY is one example of a school district that has successfully implemented community eligibility district-wide, making both breakfast and lunch available to all children at no charge, and as a result, they experienced growth in both their breakfast and lunch programs. They also attribute the changes in their nutrition programs to substantially improving their attendance rates. Larry Spring, superintendent of Schenectady City Schools, sees community eligibility as an opportunity to level the playing field for all students and address issues such as racial inequality and food insecurity as part of a larger city-wide equity agenda.

Take Action!
Here's what you can do now, before the June 30th deadline for school districts to notify their state agency that they want to participate in CEP for the 2014-2015 school year:

  • See if your School District is eligible: Check out the list of eligible schools in your state!
  • Contact your school's Administration: If your school is eligible, contact the administrators in your school district and ask them if they plan to participate in CEP next year.
  • Write an op-ed: Create some public discussion in your community around CEP by clicking here!
  • Learn more about community eligibility: Utilize these CEP resources from FRAC.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

      Anne Fyffe is a Summer Fellow at the Office of Public Witness. She will graduate from The Ohio State University in August with a degree in Public Affairs and hopes to begin seminary in 2015.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Support Smarter Sentencing

The Smarter Sentencing Act (S.1410), sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), is an incremental approach to justice reform that would reduce harsh minimum mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses, help increase fairness, reduce racial disparity, and limit overcrowding in the Bureau of Prisons.

In the PC(USA) we affirm God’s intention of shalom for each child of God and in restorative justice, which, simply put, is “addressing the hurts and the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community in such a way that all—victim, offender, and community—might be healed.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Safer Sentencing Act on January 30, 2014, and it was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on March 11.

The federal prison population has increased by 800% since 1980 and the introduction of overly punitive mandatory sentencing policies that targeted people convicted of drug offenses. Nearly half of those federal inmates are serving sentences for drug offenses, many of which are low-level and nonviolent. Today, the Bureau of Prisons is nearly 40 percent over capacity and consumes over 25 percent of the Department of Justice's budget.

Furthermore, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has testified before the Judiciary Committee that African-American and Latino defendants constitute the majority of people subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Opportunities for relief from these overly punitive sentences are rarely made available to defendants of color. Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would be an important first step toward restoring fairness in our justice system by limiting this existing racial disparity.

The Presbyterian Church has a long tradition of commitment to justice reform:

  • In 1910 the General Assembly declared that the church ought to stand “For the development of a Christian spirit in the attitude of society toward offenders against the law.” (Minutes, PCUSA, 1910, Part I, p. 232). 
  • The 215th GA approved a Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Prisons stating, “We believe that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be ‘restorative justice.’” (Resolution on Restorative Justice, Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 576).
  • In 2004, the 214th General Assembly approved a Resolution on Restorative Justice
  • In 2012, the 220th GA encouraged Presbyterians to join in the call of US faith leaders to urge the president to sign, and the Senate to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in order to reduce risk of torture and abuse in U.S. prisons.
  • In February 2014, Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, joined thousands of Presbyterians, ministers, theologians, and lay people who marched to the state capital in North Carolina.  This Moral Monday march included a focus to end disparities based on class and race in the criminal justice system. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Register Now June 4th Webinar on the Trans Pacific Partnership! 6:30-7:30 pm

Office of Public Witness Webinar on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Click here to Reserve your Webinar Seat Now!

The TPP is a controversial "free trade" agreement currently being supported by many large international corporations and negotiated behind closed doors by officials from the United States and 11 other countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.  This agreement being negotiated without transparency could:

  • offshore millions of American jobs,
  • roll back Wall Street reforms,
  • ban Buy American policies needed to create green jobs,
  • raise the cost of medicines,
  • expose the U.S. to unsafe food and products,
  • and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards.

The best hope is that trade functions as a means of grace to create dignified work that support people’s lives, puts food on the table and undergirds the creation of a just society. The moral test is whether our increasingly globalizing economies support the human enterprise and the larger creation, according to the PCUSA Resolution on Just Globalization, released in 2006. If trade further impoverishes segments of the world’s population, its purpose is distorted and such injustice calls for reshaping global structures that cause economic oppression and creates wealth for only a few at the expense of the many. Such a world is a parody of the biblical vision for just community.

Join in this webinar to find out more about the TPP and what you can do about it.

Speakers will be Catherine Gordon, Representative for International Issues at the Office of Public Witness and Peter Maybarduk an Burcu Kilic from Public Citizen.

Title: Office of Public Witness Webinar on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Time: 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM EDT

Click here to register today!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Our Call to Prophetic Witness - A Letter from the Stated Clerk

The Stated Clerk sent this letter to all Presbyteries:

May 19, 2014

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As Presbyterians we have a rich history of seeking justice. Scripture instructs us in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” A section of our Brief Statement of Faith reads, “We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the broken hearted” (Book of Confessions, 10.2, Lines 7–15).

As the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, I am writing at the direction of the 220th General Assembly (2012) to “recognize with joy and thanks to God the historic stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in pursuit of justice as a central mandate of our church, a mandate that calls us to uphold the need to be faithfully partisan in situations of injustice and to speak truth to power, wherever necessary as we pursue justice, without fear of retribution or the delay of deflection.”

In Presbyterians and Politics: Disturbers of Government, I recalled the first General Assembly in 1789, where commissioners engaged with government by approving a letter to be written to President George Washington expressing delight in his appointment to the “first office in the nation.” I also wrote,

On one hand, it would appear that those of the Reformed tradition have been defenders of the role of government, and on the other hand, disturbers of governments. Presbyterians have argued with the government about many issues, such as slavery, education, temperance, labor conditions, segregation, war, and the environment. At times, the General Assembly has spoken for the vast majority of the church, and at other times, the assembly has spoken a prophetic word to itself and the world.
Today we continue our rich tradition of engagement in the public sphere. It is a great joy to here recognize how our Presbyterian and Christian call to justice is being lived out in the lives of individual Presbyterians, local congregations, mid councils, and our national church. There are numerous examples of justice work being done and I highlight three here:

·    984 congregations purchasing Eco-Palms in 2013;
·    More than 5,000 Presbyterians calling for no military action in Syria in September 2013;
·    More than 200 Presbyterians, representing congregations and councils from across the U.S.A., joining the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., March 2014.

I have written before and I am repeating the sentiment now. Let us be encouraged today as we prepare for our upcoming General Assembly. May we understand this as a time to provide opportunity for us as a denomination to pursue justice together, to hear our collective call, and to respond with obedience, “to disturb governments, to speak truth to power, and to engage in the political context of the age.” Let us understand that “we—ministers, teachers, nurses, plumbers, all of us—serve God in and through our vocation and are called to a ministry of witness wherever we are.”

In Grace,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)