Nancy Stone, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, strives to connect her faith with everyday life, which includes advocating for justice for all people. Last year, she invited the Davenport-based staffers of U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks to visit the parish, which provides food and clothing to people in need. Stone wanted the staffers to learn firsthand why some of their constituents need these services.
Two staffers, one each from the offices of Ernst and Miller-Meeks, accepted the invitation and met separately with the parish’s pastoral associate/business manager, who oversees the ministries.
The staffers learned many persons who depend on St. Anthony’s food pantry and clothing ministries are employed but do not earn enough to cover their basic needs. They need affordable housing.
Stone’s creative approach to advocacy didn’t solve the affordable housing crisis in Iowa, but it raised awareness, the first of many, painstaking steps necessary to work toward justice. She modeled, and continues to model, what our Church calls us to do: live our faith in our daily lives.
“As Catholics, we receive the body and blood of Christ and then we go out to live as Eucharist in the world,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops. “One way we can live this out is through participation in the political life of our state and country.” He made these comments March 3 during a diocesan Lunch and Learn session on the topic of targeted advocacy. That evening, he spoke at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City (see story in this week’s issue).
Chapman identifies the four overarching principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which provide the framework for our advocacy efforts:
• Life and dignity of the human person. This principle provides the foundation of our moral vision, which embraces life from conception to natural death. God created every person in God’s image and likeness.
• Subsidiarity. Community groups and associations have a right and a duty to participate in shaping society and promoting the well-being of all. Social action should occur at the lowest possible level.
• The common good. These are the goods all of us need to flourish and to have access to, such as life, clean air, clean water, food, a good education, productive work, fair wages, freedom of religion and health care. Co-existing with rights are responsibilities, such as employment, if a person has the ability to work. The Catholic Church views the primary role of government as guaranteeing and protecting the common good.
• Solidarity. We are each one’s brothers and sisters. Church documents talk about the preferential option for the poor. When we look at policies, we look first at how these policies affect the least among us.
Here are some pressing issues in the Iowa Legislature (www.legis.iowa.gov) in need of our advocacy:
• Reductions in unemployment benefits (House File 2279 and Senate Files 2275 and 2249). The ICC opposes the bills, which would reduce the number of weeks of benefits and require a one-week waiting period before the unemployed worker receives benefits. Most employees paid by the hour do not have the funds to absorb a week’s lost wages.
The bills under consideration also require laid-off workers to accept lower-paying jobs more quickly. Chapman sees the possibility for abuse, with an unscrupulous employer laying off someone and then re-hiring that individual to the same job at significantly reduced wages. Coupled with the mandatory one-week waiting period, this could create additional financial hardship for workers. The unemployment system is supposed to help workers laid off through no fault of their own.
• Manufactured homes. HF 2441 would expand from 60 days to 90 days the notification to residents of rent increases and exempt mobile homes from property taxes, which are good proposals.
However, the Manufactured Home Residents Network says the bill places no limits on park owners’ ability to raise lot rent by as much and as many times as they please. The network urges lawmakers to amend HF 2441 to include proposals introduced in past bills to limit rent increases, prohibit utility overcharges, create just cause eviction standards, and take first steps toward ensuring manufactured home residents have rights as least as strong as those of other Iowa renters.
• Parental choice in education. House Study Bill 672 would help additional parents afford tuition to a Catholic school. Public school students who either have household income of 400% of the federal poverty level or less, or have an individualized education plan, would be eligible to apply. The Senate version (Senate File 2369) has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. A review by the Legislative Services Agenda estimates that the bill would save the state’s budget about $24 million.
Stone’s personal experience showed her that legislative advocacy requires perseverance, prioritization of issues, data and respectful dialogue. That’s why she is focusing on mental health, juvenile justice and racial justice beginning where she lives — in Scott County.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor