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My Blog
  • David Beckmann

U.S. policies have shifted more to the benefit of poor and near-poor people in President Biden’s first month than in any month in the last 70 years. This year is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move toward an economy that provides justice and opportunity for all.

A week before President Biden took office, he outlined his plans to get the pandemic under control, rescue the economy (with a focus on assistance to the people and communities who have been hardest hit), and then launch investments designed to build a more just and sustainable economy.

In his first days in office, he announced a series of executive actions. One of the very first was focused on the current surge in hunger in America, especially among children. It has expanded the national nutrition programs. Another early action focused on racial equity - restoring protection against discrimination in housing and the federal government’s reliance on for-profit companies to manage prisons.

Biden’s executive actions related to other problems were all designed with an eye to economic justice. The new administration’s top priority is COVID management, especially speeding up vaccinations, but it includes federal action to reach population groups who are most likely to be neglected. In executive actions related to health care generally, the President reopened the health insurance exchanges and ended the work requirements some states have imposed on Medicaid.

Importantly, Biden’s climate change plan promises strong emphasis on creating quality jobs in our shift to an environmentally sustainable economy. The new administration is committed to developing alternative energy businesses and to focusing business development and assistance in communities that rely on coal for jobs.

Biden’s immigration announcement included immediate action to end construction of Trump’s wall (an ugly symbol of harsh immigration policies) and strengthen DACA (allowing millions of young people to thrive and contribute to their communities).

I was especially heartened by President Biden’s early attention to Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Biden has put an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing in civilian areas.

Congress is now moving quickly to pass legislation based on the President’s emergency health and economic plan. Low-income people and people of color have been hit hardest by COVID-19 and stand to benefit most from an orderly, science-informed public health response. Many low-income and working-class families desperately need the schools to open, and the legislation includes funds to allow schools to reopen safely.

The economic assistance in the legislation is also focused on the people and communities who have been hardest hit by the economic fall-out from the pandemic. Most notably, it would expand low-income tax credit programs, especially for the poorest families and families with children. Hunger and poverty among children has surged during the pandemic, and the tax credit reforms are expected to cut child poverty in half. For many working families, the tax credits maintain work incentives and make work pay.

This new package of COVID relief legislation also includes $10 billion to deal with international aspects of the global pandemic - more than all the prior COVID relief packages combined. The number of people in absolute poverty around the world increased by about 100 million in 2020, and the 50 poorest countries have so far received almost none of the world’s supply of COVID vaccine.

President Biden’s inaugural address was all about overcoming the deep divisions in our country, and he has made conversations with Republican legislators a high priority. The Democratic package for COVID relief includes direct payments of $1,400 to nearly all Americans, but Biden has expressed openness to Republican proposals to focus these payments among lower-income people. Senator Romney has come forward with his own proposal to expand child tax credits.

I’m now serving as coordinator for the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of church bodies and organizations from all the families of Christianity. We are focusing especially among Republicans. The Democrats have narrow majorities in both houses of Congress, but some bipartisanship in the development and passage of Biden’s first legislation would be an important step toward civic health and sustained progress.

People who are represented by Republicans in Congress can help by encouraging them to help shape and then support the COVID rescue package that is moving through Congress. There was strong Republican opposition to the COVID package that was developed by a bipartisan group of senators in December. But in the end, 92 senators voted for it. Also, many legislators in both parties were personally shaken by the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and I pray that some of them may find themselves newly open to working together.

  • David Beckmann

Donald Trump consistently does what’s in his self-interest. We’ve come to know him and must expect that he will do everything he can to maximize his power and wealth, even as he stumbles and flails through the last days of his presidency.

I thank God that Joe Biden decisively won the election. Voters (both Trump and Biden voters) came out in inspiring numbers, and the election was well-run. There is no evidence of widespread fraud. More than 90 judges (some of them Trump appointees) have rejected his suits for a redo.

State and local election officials (in both parties) have resisted Trump’s intense pressure to discredit the results. In the tape of Trump’s phone conversation with Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Trump even threatened him with criminal prosecution, but Raffensberger stood up for Georgia’s voters.

I also thank God that Congress and the President passed the $900 billion COVID relief package (including $13 billion in food assistance for hungry Americans and $4 billion in support for COVID vaccination efforts in low-income countries). Failure to agree on this package would have deepened hardship and misery across America.

As we approach the run-off election for Georgia’s two Senate seats, the Democratic candidates appear to be slightly ahead. Their victory would improve our prospects to move forward this year with a strong program to overcome the COVID crisis and then build back better from the economic crisis.

More than 11 senators and as many as 140 members of the House have now indicated they will object to electoral college results when they are read out on January 6. Most Republicans give some credence to Trump’s baseless claims, and Trump is urging them to contact their members of Congress. But after hours of theatrics, majorities in both houses of Congress are almost sure to affirm Biden’s election as President.

Trump still holds tremendous power and could do yet more damage in his last days as President. He seems to be doing nothing to improve the roll-out of COVID vaccines. He is encouraging “wild” street demonstrations on January 6, and he might find some pretext to call out armed forces to “restore order.”

In overriding Trump’s veto of this year’s defense reauthorization act last month, Congress blocked him from suddenly withdrawing troops from Afghanistan or Germany. But Trump appointed a group of his loyalists to top jobs in the Pentagon after the election, and he could order some international military action if he thinks it will serve his personal interests. This seems unlikely, but possible.

What can we do? If you have a Republican senator or representative, please call or email their office ASAP and urge them not to object to the results of the election. You will find any legislator’s email address and phone number on the homepage of his or her website.

For all of us, this is a time for prayer. Thank God for sustaining our nation and the world, and pray that God will guide President Trump, President-Elect Biden, members of Congress, and others in authority to serve the common good. We can also pray for peace of mind and a new spirit of cooperation among the people of our troubled nation.

The Book of Common Prayer offers this prayer for elections:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • David Beckmann

The nation is exhausted by COVID and now more deeply divided by President Trump’s shameless challenge to the election results. But in the midst of this, nearly all the members of Congress have joined together in affirming what our country has been doing to reduce child stunting in the world’s poorest countries.

This week the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution that affirms the importance of continued U.S. support for best-practice child nutrition programs around the world. The Senate passed a parallel resolution last year. Bread for the World members across the country made this happen. They had 586 meetings with 356 congressional offices. They made 458 calls to their members of Congress and wrote 83,000 letters.

Click here to watch a wonderful video about their campaign. Nancy Jones, an activist in Appleton, Wisconsin, sums it up, “The story I really want to tell is about persistence and teamwork, because that’s really what it was.”

The Advent season teaches us persistence. God is patiently, persistently coming into our world. In Advent we sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” We read about the persistent faith of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna. We hear John the Baptist’s call to get ready for the kingdom and Jesus’ parable about keeping our lamps burning during a long night of waiting.

We have two opportunities now to advance the interests of people in poverty through the political process.

First, Congress is making huge funding decisions this month. They need to approve an appropriations bill to keep the government open, and the House - but not the Senate - wants it to include $10 billion in aid to help low-income countries deal with the pandemic. Many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also realize that another COVID relief bill is needed to avoid a sharp increase in hardship, and a bipartisan group of senators has developed a compromise package. The final package may - or may not - include a 15% increase in SNAP benefits for the lowest income families on the program.

So we can again call the offices of our senators (especially if you have a Republican senator) to urge them to help pass both these bills and to include the $10 billion in international aid and the 15% increase in SNAP benefits.

I called the office of one of my senators, Mark Warner, and asked to talk with the staffer who works on agriculture and nutrition issues. Warner is part of the bipartisan compromise group, so I asked his staff to put me on the list of constituents who appreciate his leadership on this. I also urged that Warner push to get the increase in SNAP benefits in the final bill.

In my judgment, we can also benefit poor people by supporting the two Democrats in the Senate run-off election in Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. If Warnock and Ossoff are both elected, Biden will be able to advance his Build Back Better investment program. If not, we will be stuck in legislative gridlock for the next two years.

Warnock and his opponent, Kelly Loeffler, had their first debate this week. Loeffler defended Senator McConnell’s “skinny” proposals for the next COVID relief package, while Warnock argued for more help for struggling families. Jon Ossoff and his opponent, David Perdue, also share their parties’ positions on this issue.

I’ve given more money to candidates this year than ever before, but I recently sent contributions to Warnock and Ossoff. I also called my nephew in Atlanta to encourage him to be active in the election. He thought he could get a couple apolitical friends to vote.

Many of us have been active in advocacy about the next COVID relief bill for months, and we are ready to be done with this year’s elections. But you might consider making one more call to a member of Congress and perhaps sending political contributions to Georgia as part of your personal observance of Advent.