WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) has set its 2014 legislative priorities for the U.S. Congress. The priorities include several issues in the headlines recently, such as immigration reform and health security. There are also holdovers from 2013, such as combating human trafficking and fully funding international family planning.
The priorities support social-justice stances approved by The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-making body, General Conference. The priorities are based on the denomination’s “Social Principles” and the Book of Resolutions, which contains statements on Christian social concerns.
GBCS’s legislative priorities are determined by the social action agency’s work area directors. The priorities all represent areas to which the faith community can bring a unique voice to the legislative process through a focus on justice.
Not comprehensive list
The legislative priorities are not intended to be a comprehensive list of the advocacy efforts of GBCS, which is charged by General Conference to “seek to bring the whole of human life, activities, possessions, use of resources, and community and world relationships into conformity with the will of God.” Instead, the priorities tend to represent areas in which the U.S. Congress is expected to take action.
Advocacy efforts targeted at overcoming poverty and improving health resonate with The United Methodist Church’s four focus areas.
2014 legislative priorities
The 2014 legislative priorities are:
- Promote health security
- Prevent and curb addiction
- Just, humane immigration reform
- End mass incarceration in the U.S.
- Raise the minimum wage
- Combat income and wealth inequality
- Support clean air for communities
- Reform Toxic Substances Control Act
- Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act
- Diplomacy over war with Iran
- Overcome global poverty, hunger and conflict
- Stop sex and labor trafficking
- Reauthorize the International Violence Against Women Act
- Protect access to family planning
- Support global maternal health
- Fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis
Following are descriptions of the 2014 legislative priorities:
Promote health security
“All persons deserve access to affordable, quality health care,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care. “We will encourage the U.S. Congress to protect programs that assure health care for all ages.”
Abrams said this involves supporting reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) for children and pregnant women; Medicaid for low-income people; Medicare for senior citizens; and full implementation of the Affordable Care Act for people without health insurance who don’t qualify for other programs.
“We also support organizing efforts in states that still have significant health-coverage gaps because they have not yet legislated Medicaid expansion,” Abrams emphasized.
Prevent and curb addiction
“Addiction to alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling is impacted by powerful industry interests seeking to profit from human misery, according to Abrams “These interests promote legislation to loosen regulation that smoothes their path to greater profits,” she said.
Abrams cited as a priority passage of the Sober Truth in Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act that funds coordinated prevention. Among priorities is opposition to efforts to weaken gambling regulation including repeal of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
“We support organizing efforts in states to prioritize public health first in regulating the alcohol and gambling industries, and encourage drug rehabilitation over incarceration,” Abrams said. “We also oppose adoption of trade treaties that weaken the ability of signatories to regulate these industries.”
“We will encourage Congress to pass just, humane immigration reform that provides full citizenship for undocumented persons and reunites families,” said Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights. “We will urge the president to stop all deportations until just legislation is passed.”
End mass incarceration
Congress will be urged to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which will reform mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, according to Mefford. “We will also seek to reduce the influence of the private-prison industry,” he said, “and to support people returning from prison to their home communities.”
Raise the minimum wage
United Methodists have long advocated for a “living wage in every industry” (1908 Social Creed), pointed out John Hill, director of Economic & Environmental Justice. “Unfortunately, in today’s economy, too many of our brothers and sisters are working full-time jobs and receiving sub-poverty wages,” he stated.
Hill said GBCS supports raising the federal minimum wage as a step towards ensuring that all workers receive income sufficient to support themselves and their families.
Combat income and wealth inequality
Another GBCS priority is to combat the growing challenge of income and wealth inequality through tax reform. “We want to ensure that the needs of those on the economic margins are at the center of our economic policy decisions,” Hill said.
Support clean air for our communities
GBCS supports efforts to reduce power-plant pollution that heavily impacts at-risk populations including children and the elderly as well contributes to the global challenge of a changing climate. “By implementing a strong Clean Air Act, our elected officials can protect our communities from air pollutants,” Hill said, “and take a strong step towards meeting our international responsibility to address climate disruption.”
Reform Toxic Substances Control Act
Hill said the agency advocates for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act. This should ensure all of God’s children and communities are protected from hazardous pollutants, according to Hill.
Diplomacy over war with Iran
Mark Harrison, director of Peace with Justice, said the United States and other nations have made significant progress in diplomatic negotiations with Iran concerning that country’s nuclear program. “Nonetheless, legislation has been introduced in Congress that would place additional sanctions on Iran,” he said. “Such legislation would undermine diplomatic negotiations and could lead to war.” He said GBCS will oppose new sanctions legislation on Iran that would push back the peace process.
Overcome global poverty, hunger and conflict
“Our advocacy will focus on prioritizing U.S. foreign assistance to address poverty, hunger and conflict with a special concern for Africa, the Middle East and Haiti,” Harrison said. He cited legislation that has been introduced to address the millions of children around the world who do not attend school, help provide electricity for Africa’s poor, and remove barriers that humanitarian aid and peace-building groups face when working in conflict zones.
“Advocacy will support multilateral initiatives that promote just and sustainable development goals,” Harrison emphasized.
Stop sex and labor trafficking
An estimated 27 million people are in forced or bonded labor, or forced prostitution worldwide, pointed out Susan Greer Burton, director of Women’s & Children’s Concerns. “We will work to pass the Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment & Trafficking Elimination and Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Acts to hold those accountable who exploit and abuse the most vulnerable in our world,” she said. “These will also ensure trafficking survivors receive services and resources to rebuild their lives.”
Reauthorize International Violence Against Women Act
“Gender-based violence devastates the lives of one in three women in the world,” Burton emphasized. She said the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) is a bipartisan bill that seeks to prevent violence against women and girls globally through U.S. foreign policy.
Protect access to family planning
Burton said women have the right to resources to intentionally space and time pregnancies. “We will support family-planning funding through foreign aid and in the Affordable Care Act implementation,” she said.
Support global maternal health
“We will advocate for funding, programs and policies that support access to maternal health and voluntary family-planning services around the globe,” said Katey Zeh, program director of the GBCS initiative Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.
Fight HIV/AIDS, malaria & tuberculosis
In 2012, malaria killed an estimated 483,000 children under five years of age, according to the Rev. Clayton Childers, director of advocacy for the United Methodist Imagine No Malaria campaign. He pointed out that is almost one child per minute.
“Each day, more than 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV, including 1,000 children,” he said. “Congress will be encouraged to fully fund global-health initiatives that protect the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters.”
The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.