Resolved, that this 143rd Convention of the Diocese of Southern Ohio submit the following resolution to the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:
Resolved, the House of ____________ concurring, that the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church advocate unflaggingly for the federal and state governments of the United States to close gaps in the safety net which cause millions of Americans to suffer eviction, homelessness, inability to access health care, medical debt, and hunger; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, dioceses, and The Episcopal Church advocate for government food assistance, health care coverage, and housing assistance to be entitlements, for which eligibility is determined by the applicant’s current financial need and all eligible people receive the aid they qualify for; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, dioceses, and The Episcopal Church oppose federal cuts in tax credits that benefit low-income families including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Child Care Credit, and advocate for similar tax credits at the state level; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, dioceses, and The Episcopal Church oppose health care proposals
1. to limit public benefit funding to block grants, or
2. to cut off new enrollment of income-eligible people at a future date irrespective of their needs, or
3. to stipulate that people who lose eligibility when their income rises cannot re-enroll if their income falls again in the future due to loss of income, and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians and dioceses in the 19 states that did not accept the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion advocate with their state legislators and governors to accept this benefit and federal funding for their constituents; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, dioceses and The Episcopal Church call on Congress to make the cost-sharing provisions of the Affordable Care Act an entitlement; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, dioceses and The Episcopal Church call on Congress to cap the mortgage interest deduction for wealthy taxpayers and direct the increased revenue to low-income housing assistance programs; and be it further
Resolved, that the General Convention allocate funding for 1/4 FTE staff person at the Washington Office of The Episcopal Church to track federal and state legislative proposals on public benefit funding and eligibility, and to provide timely action alerts to bishops, dioceses, and Episcopal Public Policy Network subscribers.
The government safety net across the United States is full of holes. Its ability to protect a family from illness, medical debt, and hunger varies widely depending on where that family lives. The worst examples are housing subsidies and Medicaid.
Housing: Federal policy says housing is affordable when a family pays no more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving enough for other basic necessities. Yet 27% of renting households pay more than 50% of their income for housing causing constant housing instability for many families. The havoc caused by eviction and homelessness has been powerfully documented in Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted.
Federal programs to provide housing assistance to low-income families are seriously underfunded. Only about one in four low-income families eligible for housing assistance receive it. There are massive waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers and other programs. This underfunding is a major factor in the epidemic of family homelessness across the United States. A family in need today may have to wait years for a voucher.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition annually documents the gap between income and market rate housing costs. Across the nation, except in some communities which have passed living wage ordinances, a breadwinner would have to earn almost twice the minimum wage to afford a market rate two-bedroom apartment with a full-time job.
Health Coverage: When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, 48 million Americans were uninsured. Medical debt accounted for about half of the family bankruptcies in the United States. The Affordable Care Act created a network of programs to provide coverage that would enable Americans under age 65 to afford the care they need.
For those making over 100% of the poverty level, the law created a sliding scale of tax credits for premiums and cost-sharing subsidies to reduce deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. In the wake of legislation that almost passed in 2017 to change this sliding scale in ways that would harm low-income Americans, and the President’s threat to stop cost-sharing payments, we call on Episcopalians to advocate with Congress to keep this income-based sliding scale and to make funding for the cost-sharing subsidies an entitlement.
A vital piece of the Affordable Care Act was to expand Medicaid coverage to working-age adults (19-64) making between 0 and 138% of the poverty level. The federal government initially paid 100% of the costs of this coverage, and will eventually taper to 90%. One consequence of the many lawsuits against the ACA was that the Supreme Court ruled that the Medicaid expansion was voluntary: states were not required to accept this program. At this writing, 19 states have not yet accepted the Medicaid expansion. People making less than 100% of the poverty level are not eligible for the ACA tax credits to make premiums affordable because the law was written to cover that group through Medicaid. Thus, millions of low-income adults across these states are left without government aid to afford health care.
By June of 2017, over 74 million Americans – children, low-income elderly people, the disabled, and working-age adults, were enrolled in Medicaid. This is 16.6 million more people on Medicaid in 48 states and D.C. than in October 2013, just before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. (Source: www.medicaid.gov. Connecticut and Maine are not included because they didn’t report data for both periods).
35,678,649 of the Americans covered by Medicaid in June, 2017 – more than 50% – were children.
In 2017, Congress seriously debated proposals to end the Medicaid expansion at a set future date, to change the funding from an entitlement to a block grant (which would force states to do triage between all eligible people including children and the low-income elderly), and to prevent working age adults from re-enrolling if they lose eligibility for a time and then their income falls again.
As an entitlement, Medicaid currently is a real safety net for working people in states that accepted the expansion. People can enroll if they lose a job, and stay covered until their income rises again. To see how this saves lives, think of people with cancer or chronic disease like diabetes. The Great Recession of 2008 and America’s transition into more and more of a gig economy illustrate how vital it is to have a vital and responsive safety net. It is not fair for a displaced worker in 2022 to have no recourse to Medicaid, which would have covered him in a spell of unemployment in 2015.
Medicaid has been essential in drastically reducing the number of uninsured American children. We call on Episcopalians to strongly support the renewal of authorization for CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program).
Studies show that children are much more likely to stay enrolled in Medicaid if their parents are enrolled. Medicaid enrollment of parents provides security for the whole family. Lack of access to health care compromises parents’ health, ability to work, and puts them at risk of catastrophic medical debt.
Federal food aid: Congress continually debates cutting funding for food aid including SNAP (formerly called food stamps) which is still an entitlement. We call on Episcopalians to oppose cuts in federal nutrition program funding or limiting the funding by making it a block grant.
Both Congressional leaders and state governments are worried about the cost of entitlements. For example, Ohio’s legislature has tried to block the Medicaid expansion (which by 2017 had provided coverage to over 730,000 adults, more than three times the number of Ohioans who had enrolled in private insurance under the ACA). Their 2017 repeal was stopped only by the veto of Governor Kasich, which the legislature may still choose to override.
Comparing entitlements for the poor and the wealthy: While access to housing and health care coverage depend on the vagaries of where a poor family lives and how much funding Congress passes, wealthy and upper middle-class Americans annually receive billions in tax credits and deductions which function as federally-funded entitlement programs. These include the mortgage interest deduction, which is a housing subsidy that disproportionately benefits wealthy Americans because it rises depending on the amount of interest paid in the year. The more expensive the house, and the larger the mortgage, the greater the subsidy by the federal government. The federal government currently spends more to subsidize the homes of the 7 million households with incomes above $200,000 than to assist the 55 million households with incomes below $50,000, even though they are far more likely to struggle to afford a place to live.
No one claiming the mortgage interest deduction ever has to worry about getting to the head of the line and filing early to get the benefit before the funding runs out. How is it that any eligible taxpayer, no matter how wealthy, can claim the mortgage interest deduction, while thousands of working poor families in every state slide into homelessness while waiting years for a Section 8 voucher?
A national campaign called “United for Homes,” led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, is working to include housing in Congressional tax reform efforts. They are proposing a cap on the mortgage interest deduction for the wealthy and redirecting the revenue to increase affordable housing.
Tax Credits: Tax credits for the working poor – especially the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit – are the single most effective government program in lifting American families above the poverty level. The Child Care credit is a powerful work support helping low-wage families offset the huge cost of child care.
These credits are calculated as part of a family’s income tax return and require no additional application or bureaucracy to administer. “Refundable” means that the taxpayer receives the full value of the tax credit even if they don’t owe tax. It operates as a negative income tax. The EITC can put thousands of dollars into a working family’s budget. While Episcopalians continue advocating to make housing subsidies an entitlement, we should support continuing the federal EITC at least at current levels while encouraging states that don’t offer an EITC to begin this program.
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (Mike Maloney, Elizabeth Brown, Ariel Miller, Chuck Morello)
Union of Black Episcopalians
Episcopal Ecological Network
The Rev. Deniray Mueller, Legislative Liaison