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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beckmann

In order to avoid a government shutdown, Congress must come to some agreement this month on appropriations for the fiscal year that starts on October 1. Compromise on the final appropriations package seems by that deadline seems impossible, but they could instead agree to continue current levels of appropriations through the end of the year. They might also finalize decisions in a few areas of appropriations on which there is agreement.


The church leaders in the Circle of Protection just sent a letter to every member of Congress and the President, mainly to urge protection for poverty-important programs, notably WIC (nutrition assistance for small children and pregnant women) and emergency aid for the alarming number of the world's people who are now suffering extreme hunger in countries like South Sudan and Afghanistan. I think you'll appreciate both the policy analysis and religious language in the Circle letter at this link: circleofprotection.us.

  • Writer's pictureDavid Beckmann

Efforts to reduce poverty has been a focus of conflict between our two political parties again this year, now with the Republican Party in control of the House of Representatives. We are halfway through 2023, a good time to recall the ups and downs of this year’s debates, assess results, and think how we can best influence what's happening. I’m following these events as coordinator of the Circle of Protection, an advocacy coalition of church bodies and Christian ministries (https://circleofprotection.us).


The most extreme Republicans in the House have again been disruptive, repeatedly blocking the work of their own party and putting us all at risk of a major financial crisis. They got their way when Speaker McCarthy was struggling to develop a bill on the budget and debt ceiling that he could get all his House Republicans to support. The bill would have made a necessary increase in the debt ceiling conditional on cuts in efforts to reduce poverty and curtail climate change. The Circle of Protection crafted a joint letter to the President and Congress that flagged the disproportionate impact of a financial crisis on low-income workers and argued against the bill’s proposed cuts in poverty-focused programs.


We arranged in-person meetings at the White House and with senior leaders in Congress on June 6. I thought we might be in the initial stages of a U.S. default on that day. Thankfully. President Biden and Speaker McCarthy reached a compromise, and a majority in both houses of Congress voted for it. The compromise legislation spared us from a financial crisis, protected the President’s climate-change programs, and substantially moderated cuts to poverty-focused programs. It was signed into law on the day before our meetings.





We expressed our gratitude to all the political leaders who helped achieve this compromise, but used most of our time with them to help turn their attention to three poverty-important issues on which religious groups and other advocacy organizations will be active through the rest of 2023:


> Appropriations for 2024. The compromise called for a freeze in appropriations for non-defense programs at the level of 2023. But after the bill passed, House leadership caved to the far right again, so the House majority is now pushing for appropriations at the 2022 level. Church groups and other advocates are urging Congress to protect poverty-focused programs and to approve increases in some programs, notably WIC, housing, and international assistance.


> Tax legislation. House Republicans are putting together tax legislation that would reduce revenue from high-income people and corporations. It would also rescind recently approved tax credits designed to slow climate change. The groups in the Circle of Protection, some of them conservative-leaning groups, all think - based on biblical principles - that our country should raise more revenue from high-income people and corporations. Many faith groups will push hard for some re-expansion of the Child Tax Credit for low-income families in whatever tax legislation passes Congress this year.


> The Farm Bill. After many years of advocacy, three-quarters of the funding in the Farm Bill now goes to nutrition programs. The Circle groups together want Congress to protect SNAP food assistance and international food aid.


We followed up (just this week) with another joint letter to the President and every member of Congress. The letter puts these three issues in the context of increased need in our country and some of the poorest countries in the world.


The massive bills Congress passed during the pandemic kept the U.S. economy afloat and avoided a sustained surge in hunger and poverty. During Biden’s first year in office, hunger and poverty dropped to historically low levels. But legislation that would have continued some pandemic assistance programs failed by one vote in the Senate at the end of 2021, and communities have been coping with wave after wave of increasing need since then as one pandemic program after another has ended. According to Census Bureau data, the percentage of families with children who aren’t getting enough to eat has increased by a third between October 2021 and May 2023. This clearly wasn’t necessary. It was a political choice.


In the developing world, the pandemic has stalled progress and provoked some increase in poverty and hunger. In general, the reversal hasn’t been as severe as I expected. But in a handful of very poor countries suffering conflict, more people are struggling on the edge of famine than ever before.


God’s purposes in this situation require ongoing advocacy with our members of Congress on the three poverty-important decisions Congress will be making this year. We also need to give time and money now to influence the 2024 elections. Our experience during the first half of 2023 again shows that elections matter a lot, certainly among people in need.


  • Writer's pictureDavid Beckmann

I recommend a book of pandemic reflections titled God Holds You. Sarah Scherschligt pastors a diverse-in-every-way church (Peace Lutheran) on the western edge of Alexandria, Virginia. When the world shut down on March 15, 2020, she sent an evening missive to the people she pastors after she put her children to bed.


“This thought came to mind as I cuddled my little one to sleep tonight: God will hold you,” it began.


She continued sending out evening missives for the next 13 months. Our lives, the economy, and our politics were in more-than-the-usual turmoil. But in her gracious reflections, Sarah invited the members of her church - and in this book invites us - to see our tumultuous world through the eyes of her soul as pastor, mother, activist, wife, and neighbor.


You might use her reflections as daily devotions. I read them one after the other, and halfway through the book I realized they had indeed given me a freshly vivid sense of God’s presence in the everyday.





Since I’m an analytical sort of person, I asked myself, “What makes her think God holds us?”

I quickly reviewed the first half of the book, writing down the specific events or thoughts that gave her a sense of God-with-us. I continued taking notes as I finished the book.


Mostly, she sees God’s presence in relationships with family, church members, neighbors, and society. She also sees God in nature, art, children, and inspiring efforts to address big social problems (the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of those months, for example).


Listing these signs of God made me think of something St. Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Sarah has made this way of thinking a habit.


Her reflections are also laced with references to Jesus, Bible stories, and worship services. They encourage her faith that God is with us, hope even in terrible times, and love for everybody. They lead her to be politically active and to teach others to be active on both environmental and poverty issues. This kind of pastoral work is a foundation for a lasting improvement in the politics of poverty.


Sarah uses her book to lead pandemic reflections for groups via zoom or in person. She also has a group reflection guide she is happy to share. Contact her at sarahsuzanne@gmail.com


The photo I'm sending out with this post shows me with Sarah and an activist neighbor, Christy Schwengel. Christy introduced me to Sarah and invited us to her home to discuss Sarah’s memorable book.


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