Stated Clerk, Office of Public Witness sign letter in midst of government shutdown

Faith leaders urge Congress to act on essential priorities

Rick Jones and Amanda Craft | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – Hundreds of thousands of federal employees began the work week not sure if they would be going to the office or staying home on Monday. For those who did show up, it was unclear how long they would be there.

The threat of a government shutdown loomed for weeks as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill haggled over the federal budget and other issues.

While the two parties try to sort out their differences, faith leaders are calling on legislators to act on top priorities. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the church’s Office of Public Witness, are among a long list of faith leaders who sent a letter to Congress last week, urging lawmakers to act on four key priorities:

  • Pass the DREAM Act to protect immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from being deported
  • Fully fund and reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health initiatives
  • Fund desperately needed disaster and emergency relief for Puerto Rico, California, U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida
  • Protect critical non-defense programs.

The effort to move lawmakers forward was headed by the Friends Committee on National Legislation and highlighted priorities that previous General Assemblies have supported.

“It’s a sad state that our nation cannot sit down and come up with a formula or something that will give people hope who came to this country as children and are now facing deportation,” Hawkins said.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) currently protects nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants. Applicants seeking protection under the program had to have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and have lived in the country since June 15, 2007. Passing the DREAM Act would assist even more individuals in this category, providing a permanent pathway to citizenship.

The program has allowed recipients to get a driver’s license, enroll in college and find jobs. President Donald Trump stopped new DACA applications in September.

According to the letter, CHIP, the Special Diabetes Program for Indians and other programs have improved the lives of millions of families who might not receive primary care by other means. “Our children desperately need insurance. Lawmakers don’t have the compassion in their hearts to work out a solution,” Hawkins said.

The letter emphasized the widespread damage from last year’s series of hurricanes. “Half of Puerto Rico still does not have electricity, thousands of homes remain destroyed or damaged, and public health needs still have not been met,” it reads.

“We were hit by disasters, one after another, and yet we are still playing games with who gets funding and who does not,” Hawkins said. “Lawmakers are so far removed from the everyday issues that impact the lives of American people.”

The issues themselves have been overshadowed in the past few days by the federal government shutdown.

“When I walked in this morning, there were no lines at any of the Senate buildings and the streets in D.C. were deserted,” Hawkins said. “It puts a burden on people who are simply trying to make a living. It’s a bad signal to the country when the highest-elected government officials of any nation cannot sit down at the table and do the mandatory work of governance.”

Regardless of how the economy is growing, Hawkins says, there are people struggling to make ends meet and this only makes it worse.

“Oftentimes, we think about the highest-level jobs impacted, but what about the janitors and individuals who clean these buildings, people and their families who are dependent on a paycheck?” he asked. “It’s hurting people all around.”

Hawkins says the shutdown sends a message that lawmakers don’t care about the nation, but more about re-election.

To read the entire letter, click here.

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