GBCS Reports on 2008 Legislative Priorities
AIDS funding, SCHIP highlight advocacy successes; Iraq war, global warming initiatives among disappointments
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When President Obama signed the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) into law this month he brought to four the number of successful 2008 legislative priorities of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS). 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, by millions, the number of children covered.
These successes were tempered with disappointment, however, on other priorities. The war in
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
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 Methodists around the country mobilized to raise their support for this bill and it paid off," Bales said.
Give Ex-Offenders a Second Chance
Bill Mefford, director of GBCS's Civil and Human Rights work area, celebrated the passage of the "Second Chance Act." He explained that the bill, "if it is fully funded," will provide to ex-offenders coming out of prison 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 down payment 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," 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
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
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
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
End Global Poverty
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.
"GBCS supports comprehensive legislation to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions," Hill emphasized. "In 2007 Congress increased
About the General Board of Church and Society
The General Board of Church and 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
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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."
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