Tag Archives: Economic Justice
Reform CA at Lobby Day 2014

Reform CA Lobby Day: Do Your Congregations Build Affordable Housing?

By Rabbi Stephanie Kolin

On Monday, June 2, 2014, nearly 30 Reform CA leaders from all across California, descended on the Capitol building in Sacramento. We started our morning at Congregation B’nai Israel for breakfast, lobbying training, and a briefing by coalition leader Shamus Roller, Executive Director of Sacramento Housing Alliance. After our minds, hearts, and bellies were full, we jumped into our cars and headed to the Capitol. Rabbi Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood led us in a powerful prayer and kavvanah on the steps of the Capitol, as we held a tallit, our ritual shelter, above our heads.

Our first meeting was as a group, with Senate President Pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg, a member of congregation B’nai Israel, noted our deeply impactful work on the TRUST Act last year, and gave us focus for the long day ahead. We shared our gratitude with him for creating the opportunity for using Cap and Trade funding for building affordable homes near transit and then continued on our day.

Throughout Lobby Day, Reform California leaders met with over 25 of our legislators, including Senate Pro Tem Steinberg, the office of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the office of Pro Tempore Elect Kevin De Leon, and Governor Brown’s staff members who cover environmental and housing issues. Reform CA leaders asked hard questions, shared why as Jews we are committed to the preservation of our planet as well as those who inhabit it, and urged our state leadership to allocate significant Cap and Trade funds for building affordable housing near transit, not just for this year’s funds, but for the long term.

One of the many stories that emerged from this day encapsulates the power of raising a faith voice in the public square.

The team that met with Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Rabbi Dara Frimmer, and Rabbi Tamara Eskenazi, reported back that they had a wonderful meeting with him in which they had a lively exchange about Cap and Trade funding, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building affordable homes near transit. The beginning of the meeting, however, was quite remarkable. After they explained why they were there, Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas asked them: “So, do your congregations build affordable homes or are you involved in construction or development?”

They answered (somewhat confused): “No.” So he inquired about what they were doing there if they were not positioned to gain from the building of these homes. And they told him that they were there because they are Jews. They explained that we are charged with caring for the earth and for the people who inhabit it. They care about people who are suffering and struggling, they shared. Rabbi Eskenazi said: “We have an interest in living in a California that is just and compassionate for all people.” They shared that they were there because it is our job to repair what is broken in our world.

The members of that team reported back to the Lobby Day participants that Assembly Member Riddley-Thomas nodded his head in understanding and then the conversation began in earnest! We will learn again and again that our voice, a moral faith voice, has a different kind of impact in Sacramento. We are not a special interest lobby group – we speak for what is just and right for the most vulnerable in California, for our own families, and for our neighbors across lines of race, class, and faith. We have serious interests in living in an economically and environmentally just state that allows all of its citizens to thrive and grow.

When we take action in the public square, when we enact justice through the lens of Torah, we play a sacred role in creating the California that we dream of.

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin is the Co-Director of Just Congregations. She is the lead organizer of Reform California, a joint campaign of the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and the URJ’s Just Congregations. You can join the email list and learn more about the upcoming housing campaign at rac.org/reformca  

A man experiencing Homelessness holding his dog

Mental Health Awareness Month: Working Towards a Roof Over Everyone’s Head

This blog is part of an on-going series about the intersection of mental health and other crucial Jewish social justice issues during Mental Health Awareness Month. For more posts, click here.

At every RAC L’Taken Social Justice Seminar weekend, we are joined by a speaker from the National Coalition for the Homeless who speaks with the students and attempts to dispel the many inaccurate stereotypes associated with homelessness. Many people, and many of the students, associate mental health issues with poverty and homelessness—and while it not accurate in all cases, it is unfortunately true for nearly a quarter of people who are homeless. According to a factsheet on mental illness and homelessness from the National Coalition for the Homeless, 25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from a serious mental illness, compared with 6% of the overall population. Read more…

Double Booked: Caring for My Sisters and for All Our Families

By Sister Simone Campbell

I am a Catholic Sister in the community called Sisters of Social Service. We were founded—in 1923 in Budapest, Hungary, and in 1926 in Los Angeles—to wrestle with the social needs of our time.

This year marks the fiftieth year since I joined my community. The Sisters are my family in both the quality of care and affection that we hold for each other. We struggle together, laugh and cry together, celebrate together, as well as gossip and roll our eyes together at some actions we question.

Our bottom-line truth is that, like many families, we also struggle to care for all of our members.

Read more…

Reform CA Wander No More

Wander No More: Reform CA’s Campaign for Affordable Homes in California

By Rabbi Stef Kolin

Everyone in California needs a safe and affordable place to call home. Rents and mortgages within the reach of working families are critical to the moral integrity of our state and to maintaining California’s economy. Today, teachers, firefighters, EMTs, families with children, seniors, veterans, students, and too many other vulnerable and hard-working Californians are priced out of the housing market.

We have an affordable housing crisis, and Reform CA believes it is time to act! Read more…

Hunger Continues to Haunt America

By Rabbi Jonathan A. Stein

For one in six Americans, hunger is a daily reality. That’s right—1 in 6, close to 50 million of our citizens! As you are reading this article, nearly 13 million families in America are struggling with food insecurity. And most of these do not match the stereotype that we too often conjure up in our minds: instead they are normally hardworking families who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced, for lack of sufficient funds, to cut back on the amount of food they eat—sometimes it just the adults, too often the entire family. Read more…

Why Paul Ryan’s Budget Would Be Bad for Women

By Kristen Walling

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This scripture from Luke 12:34 reminds us that the places we allocate our money reveal what is truly important to us. Our federal budget—the decisions about how we will spend our money—reflects what we choose to value. The federal budget plan crafted by Representative Paul Ryan unfortunately presents a dishearteningly bleak future for women in this country. Low-income women, women of color, and elderly women would be particularly hard-hit if Congress were to accept Ryan’s budget proposal as is.

Low-Income Women

The Ryan budget proposes balancing the budget by drastically reducing spending on programs that help low-income Americans, particularly women. Women who are heads-of-households and elderly women are especially reliant on programs for low-income people such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Pell Grants which help low-income people attend college, child care subsidies, and school lunch programs. Here are only some of the cuts the Ryan budget proposes to such programs:

  • $137 billion from SNAP cuts alone: in FY 2011 women were 62% of non-elderly recipients and 66% of elderly adult recipients
  • Up to $125 billion in Pell Grants: in the 2007-2008 academic year, two-thirds of Pell Grant recipients were women.
  • At least $150 billion to unspecified mandatory programs serving low-income Americans, which would likely include programs such as Supplemental Security Income; a majority of SSI adult and elderly beneficiaries in 2012 were women

Slashing spending to these programs would have an especially harmful impact on women and their families. Instead, the budget must maintain programs women rely on and add initiatives that proactively work to support women living at the margin.

Women’s Wages

The Ryan budget also does not sufficiently take into account wages for low-income workers, a majority of whom are women. Although women comprise 47% of the overall workforce, they represent over 76% of workers in the ten largest low-wage jobs. These occupations include childcare workers, cashiers, home health aides, waiters and waitresses, and food preparers. Our current federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) does not provide economic security for women and their families. Unlike other budget proposals, Paul Ryan does not assume an increase in the minimum wage. While the budget itself would not necessarily raise the minimum wage, it is incredibly problematic that Representative Ryan’s fiscal policies are built on assumptions of stagnant wages for the millions of American women struggling to provide for their families. Women need a federal budget that works in conjunction with, rather than against, other legislative policies that support low-wage workers.

Women’s Health

One of the most striking components of the Ryan proposal is that it would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has been absolutely instrumental in securing access to basic health care for millions of American women. Women face particular challenges in finding affordable health insurance that covers the range of health benefits they need, and are more likely than men to struggle to pay medical bills. However, the ACA greatly expanded basic primary and preventive health care options for women, including services such as cancer screenings, pap smears, maternal health, pelvic exams, and HIV/STI screenings. Repealing the ACA would cause millions of women who have acquired coverage under the new law to lose their health insurance and access to these services. A more responsible budget would continue to ensure sufficient funding and access for quality health care programs for women.

It was likely not Paul Ryan’s plan to specifically target women. However, when a majority of the beneficiaries of many of the programs he would slash are women, it is hard to see his proposals as anything short of an attack on women. As people of faith we are called to lift up those living at the margins and struggling to make ends meet. Supporting the Ryan budget is certainly not in line with these values, and Congress must seek policies that would better support women’s economic security, health, education, and ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Kristen Walling is a Policy Advocate at the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries. You can read more by Kristen on the UCC website, http://www.ucc.org

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin

Reform CA: In the Field Choosing Our Next Campaign

By Rabbi Stephanie Kolin

What has Reform CA been up to recently? Over the past few months, the Reform CA Leadership Team and many talented congregational point people have been researching and considering the possibilities for Reform CA’s next campaign.  As many reading this know, one of the issues on the table is the immense need for affordable housing. This need affects some of California’s most vulnerable residents, as well as first responders, families with children, first time home buyers, veterans, and seniors.

We had learned, however, that one significant obstacle to creating a pot of affordable housing funds in California is that the California Association of Realtors (CAR) has been opposed to a key piece of legislation that could make some headway into this important issue: SB 391, the Homes and Jobs Act.

If CAR stayed “opposed,” this legislation would likely not succeed, but if they moved to a position of “neutrality” on the bill, its chances for passing would be much improved.  We also knew that our congregations are full of members who are realtors, in addition to many other individuals who could teach us a great deal about the issue of affordable housing and homelessness in California.

So we had a decision to make: we could wait and see if CAR would stay opposed, or we could make a case directly to them why it is so important for CAR to remain neutral on this bill.  It was a fairly easy decision!

Read more…

Map of Keystone pipeline

Keystone XL Decision Delayed…Again.

To approve the Keystone XL pipeline or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline? That is the question. And yet, there remains no answer, because as announced last Friday, the Obama administration will be delaying its decision again.

As you may recall, the Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed extension of the existing Keystone pipeline system, designed to transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska. The first proposal was in 2008 and over the last 6 years, it has become a hot-button issue for politicians, landowners, environmentalists and the energy industry in both the U.S. and Canada.

Early this year, the State Department released a report indicating that the pipeline would not have a significantly negative impact on the environment. It seemed that this report would catalyze President Obama’s decision to approve the pipeline. However, after a public comment period that yielded a staggering 2.5 million responses, and a 90-day period for interagency comments that was supposed to end May 7th, the process is not nearing an end. In February, a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling posed concern that might, yet again, change the route of the pipeline. Read more…