By Tom Chapman
Election year pressures, the upcoming five-week congressional recess, and significant differences between the Senate and House mean final consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill may be delayed until after the elections.
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) advocates for a farm bill that avoids drastic cuts in food stamps, encourages full funding for conservation and rural development programs, targets subsidies to lower- and middle-income farmers, and supports international aid.
The Senate passed its Farm Bill last month. On July 12, the House Agriculture Committee passed its version that includes a $16.1 billion cut in SNAP (food stamps), compared to a $4 billion cut in the Senate bill. A letter from the chairs of the U.S. bishops’ domestic and international policy committees called it “unjustified and wrong” to cut programs that feed hungry people in the midst of economic hardship.
One issue being debated is the current “categorical eligibility” standards, which provide states more flexibility in setting income and asset standards. This might mean that if you qualify for low-income energy assistance, you automatically qualify for food stamps (rather than have to prove your eligibility separately).
The current bill expires Sept. 30, so Congress would have to pass a “continuing resolution” to keep current programs going until the new bill is finished.
Recent statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on the Farm Bill process can be found at www.usccb.org. Also see the action alert at www.capwiz.com/catholicbishops. Even though the process has slowed down, elected representatives still need to hear from you!
Rights of conscience
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor/HHS “took a first, urgently needed step toward upholding rights of conscience and religious freedom in our health care system,” by including two key provisions in its appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, according to the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the USCCB.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston welcomed the inclusion of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA, HR 361) and the policy of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179) in the appropriations bill on July 18, saying it will “strengthen federal protections for health care providers who decline to take part in abortions, and will ensure that the Affordable Care Act allows Americans to purchase health coverage without being forced to abandon their deeply held religious and moral convictions on matters such as abortion and sterilization.”
The cardinal added that this provision leaves in place all existing legal protections against discriminatory withholding of health care, only allowing “an opt-out on moral or religious grounds from the new benefits mandates to be created for the first time by the Affordable Care Act itself.”
In addition to these conscience provisions, the bill provides $150 billion in discretionary spending for programs under the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration, a 4 percent reduction from the 2012 fiscal year. Programs funded by this proposal include Head Start, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Child Care and Development Block Grants, and Community Service Block Grants.
Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the Labor/HHS bill, allocating $158.8 billion. The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill this week.
Iowa needs better response for juvenile ‘lifers’
As you recall, last month the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life sentences without parole for people under the age of 18 convicted of murder. The ICC has supported past efforts to change Iowa law so that an offender’s age or other mitigating factors could be taken into account before sentencing. The Court’s decision meant that a few dozen inmates in Iowa would have their sentences reviewed, but did not mean that anyone would have to be released.
In response to the court decision, Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of 38 people from “life without parole” to life with a mandatory 60-year period served before parole could be considered. The governor’s action attempts to neutralize the Supreme Court decision. Further legal action by inmates may follow.
Certainly the public needs to be protected. But the Catholic faith holds out the hope of redemption and the possibility of real change in people’s lives.
Institute for Social Action is Oct. 6
The ICC and dioceses of Iowa are sponsoring the 19th annual Iowa Institute for Social Action on Saturday, Oct. 6, at St. Theresa Church in Des Moines.
Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates will be the keynote speaker addressing the topic, “Threats to World Peace and the Church’s Response.” Bishop Pates chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
Registration is $25; $10 for students. The fee includes a continental breakfast and lunch. For more information, please see www.iowasocialaction.org or email info@iowacatholic
Climate change conference
The Iowa Interfaith Power & Light’s second annual “Faith in a Changing Climate” conference will be held Thursday, Aug. 23, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Des Moines. The theme of this year’s conference is “Food, Faith, and Climate: The Challenge of Living Sustainably.”
The first keynote speaker is Matthew Anderson, executive director of the National Religious Partnership on the Environment. The NRPE is a collaborative effort of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Council of Churches, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Registration is $35 and includes continental breakfast, lunch and a resource kit for each participant. Go to www.iowaipl. org to register.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)