Social Justice Agency Sets 2012 Legislative Priorities

March 15, 2012

On the list are overcoming human trafficking, eradicating poverty and malaria, and protecting health for all. 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) has set its 2012 legislative priorities for the 112th U.S. Congress. The priorities include several holdovers from 2011, including advocacy for immigration reform, a clean energy future, and fully funding international family planning.
The priorities support social justice stances approved by The United Methodist Church's highest policy-making body, General Conference. The priorities are based on the denomination's "Social Principles" and its Book of Resolutions. They also are aligned with focus areas of the denomination approved by General Conference, which meets every four years. The next General Conference is April 24 to May 4 in Tampa, Florida.
GBCS's legislative priorities are determined by the social action agency's work area directors, in consultation with its top executive, Jim Winkler. Winkler said the priorities all represent areas to which the faith community can bring a unique voice to the legislative process, through a focus on justice.
Advocacy efforts targeted at overcoming poverty and improving health resonate with The United Methodist Church's four focus areas, according to Winkler.
The legislative priorities for 2012 are:
  • Ensure highest foreign aid funding to overcome poverty and malaria;
  • Protect health for all;
  • Fully fund international family planning;
  • Fully fund efforts to combat human trafficking;
  • Enact just, humane immigration reform;
  • End mass incarceration in the U.S. through reform of the criminal justice system;
  • Ensure a clean energy future; and
  • Address the jobs crisis.
Following are descriptions of 2012 legislative priorities:
Overcome poverty and malaria
"God's Spirit is always and everywhere at work in the world, fighting poverty and disease," said Mark Harrison, director of the Peace with Justice work area at GBCS. "The federal budget deficit should not be balanced on the poor and vulnerable."
Harrison pointed out that 1.5 billion people live in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.25 a day. "According to the World Health Organization, there were an estimated 225 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2009," he said, "and an estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010 – mostly children in Africa."
Advocacy efforts will focus on foreign aid funding to address global poverty and malaria, with special concern for Africa and Haiti, according to Harrison.
For more information, contact Mark Harrison at 202.488.5645; the Rev. Liberato Bautista, assistant general secretary, United Nations & International Ministry, at 212.973.1702; or the Rev. Clayton Childers, GBCS Imagine No Malaria advocate, at 202.488.5642.
Protect health for all
"A health care system that is inclusive, accessible, and available to everyone is a contemporary application of biblical themes for wholeness and abundant life," said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of the GBCS work area on Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care. "Passage of the Affordable Care Act moved the United States closer to health care as a 'basic human right' (United Methodist Social Principle ¶162V)."
Abrams said several important protections already have been enacted, as the law rolls out through 2014 and beyond. "More work must be done, however, to ensure we live completely into God's vision for our world, that no one is left out," she said.
The work area will advocate to ensure that people with low incomes have access to the essential safety net programs of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, to preserve Medicare for Seniors, ensure full access to treatment for people suffering from addictions and mental illnesses, and enact prevention policies for health and addictions.
For more information, contact Cynthia Abrams at 203.488.5636.
Fully fund international family planning
Reducing maternal and child mortality rates around the globe can be achieved, in part, by ensuring access to maternal health information and services, according to Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project on Women's Concerns. "Millions currently lack access to basic family-planning services that can save lives, prevent unplanned pregnancies, and reduce the need for abortions," she said.
Todd said members of Congress would be encouraged to increase U.S. funding for international family planning, including full funding for the U.N. Population Fund, which provides family planning and AIDS-prevention information. She pointed out that this is an effort to achieve Millennium Development Goal #5, calling for improved maternal health in the world.
For more information, contact Linda Todd at 703.282.6254.
Fully fund efforts to combat human trafficking
"Anywhere from 12 to 27 million people are held in forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution throughout the world," said Joe Kim, director of Children's Concerns for GBCS's Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project. "Through such forms of human trafficking and others, modern-day slavery prevails today."
GBCS will advocate for the reauthorization and full funding of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. "We support its implementation to prevent cases, protect victims and at-risk populations, prosecute perpetrators, and build partnerships globally to combat human trafficking," Kim explained.
For more information, contact Joe Kim at 202.488.5649.
Just, humane immigration reform
GBCS's Civil & Human Rights work area has set just, humane immigration reform as its priority again this year. "In responding to the scriptural call to welcome the sojourner to our land," said Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights, "we call on Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which will provide a pathway to legal status for immigrant youths."
Mefford said the agency also would call on Congress to pass legislation that will reunite immigrant families and eliminate the backlog of family visas. "We call on President Obama to end all deportations that pull families apart," he said.
For more details, contact Bill Mefford at 202.488.5657.
End mass incarceration in the U.S. through reform of the criminal justice system
"Our Social Principles call us to practice restorative justice and 'urge the creation of a genuinely new system for the care and restoration of victims, offenders, criminal justice officials, and the community as a whole,'" said Laura Markle Downton, Criminal Justice Grassroots coordinator.
Downton said that the U.S. criminal justice system – with the highest incarceration rate in the world, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of communities of color – is in direct contradiction to "our call for restorative justice. This is a matter of racial and economic justice."
Advocacy efforts will call for an end to mass incarceration through sentencing reform, through ending prison privatization and incarceration for-profit, and through communities of healing and restoration for individuals returning home following incarceration, and their families.
For more information, contact Laura Markle Downton at 202.495.2956.
Address the jobs crisis
"Our Social Principles affirm the right of every person to a job at a living wage," said John Hill, director of GBCS's work area on Economic & Environmental Justice. "The ongoing economic crisis in the United States has left millions unemployed and millions more underemployed."
Hill said GBCS would advocate for legislation to protect those out of work, and to create opportunities for all who seek employment.
For more information on this priority, contact John Hill at 202.488.5654.
A clean energy future
"As United Methodist congregations continue to lead us toward a clean energy future through conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy efforts," Hill said, "we call on Congress to strengthen, not roll back, efforts to ensure clean air in our communities." He said this includes a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
For more information on this priority, contact John Hill at 202.488.5654.
Other priorities
In addition to these priorities, each work area also identifies other issues ranking high in its advocacy efforts. These issues are not necessarily any less important, and frequently escalate in priority attention as Congress sets its agenda.
Other legislative priorities for 2012 are:
  • Oppose repeal of the Internet gambling law;
  • Prioritize needs of those living in poverty during budget and tax debates;
  • Protect vulnerable populations from toxic exposures and environmental degradation;
  • Cut U.S. military spending/support funding for reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Advocate for the right of all to a quality education; and
  • Fund the Violence Against Women Act in the U.S.
The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board's primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination worldwide. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations.