Fresh, Affordable Food Access and Education Top New LAMPa Agenda
LAMPa has a new public policy agenda for the 2016-16 session of the Pa General Assembly. This session, the LAMPa Policy Council has designated two top tier issues which will be the focus for education, resources and work with our congregations and synods.
A. TOP TIER AGENDA ITEMS
These areas will receive primary focus in advocacy education, action plans and resource development for congregations and synods.
1. IMPROVE ACCESS TO HEALTHY, AFFORDABLE FOOD
State Food Purchase Program Funding
The PA Department of Agriculture’s State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) is the Commonwealth’s most significant source of support for the efforts of Pennsylvania food banks, community food pantries and other providers of essential nutritional assistance. SFPP has made it possible for these providers to acquire and distribute food in all 67 counties. LAMPa will work with food banks and other hunger advocates for strong funding for SFPP.
Creating Fresh, Local Food Systems
LAMPa will work with synods and congregations to provide education, resource development and advocacy on how to get fresh foods to local communities. Campaigns may include development of advocacy on use of SNAP benefits, building local food policy councils, support for farm-to-school or farm-to-food bank programs and community gardening.
2. IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES FOR PENNSYLVANIA STUDENTS
Educating our children is a collective imperative that has positive social and economic benefits. Every public school must have the resources necessary to enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success, and become productive, knowledgeable, and engaged adults. LAMPa will work through the Campaign for Fair Education Funding to ensure that Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding public education by 2016.
Because a child’s brain is 90 percent developed by age 5, investments in education must start early, before the achievement gap is too wide and very costly to overcome. LAMPa will work to expand access to high-quality pre-k programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania. Currently, only 30 percent of that age group in Pennsylvania is served by quality pre-k programs.
Promote Trauma-Informed Care and Education
Some 90 percent of incarcerated youth and adults report experiencing significant childhood trauma. Hunger, homelessness, exposure to violence, abuse and neglect are shown to change the way young minds function, including their ability to learn and thereby, grow into thriving adults. Although research shows that positive connections strengthen resiliency and act as buffers to the effects of trauma, in Pennsylvania, our reaction is still too often to isolate and frequently re-traumatize, further ingraining self-destructive behaviors. LAMPa will work for changes in juvenile sentencing, increased funding for counseling services, and legislative and regulatory action to promote trauma-informed education. We will work toward a school funding formula that recognizes the need to address trauma and toward required training in trauma-informed education at a minimum as part of the current continuing education requirements for teachers.
B. OTHER ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE
1. PROMOTE HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL STABILITY
Increase the Minimum Wage
In Pennsylvania, with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, 5.5 percent of Pennsylvania’s workforce — 190,800 people — earn the minimum or less. Of those workers, 65 percent are women and many are raising families, 74 percent are white, 58 percent are under the age of 25 and 60 percent do not have a high school diploma. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would help close the wage gap. LAMPa supports an increase in the minimum wage in Pennsylvania that will take into account the impact on nonprofit organizations, including: phasing in to lessen the impact of increased costs on our social service safety net; that new revenues be earmarked to increase reimbursement to help lessen the impact of wage increases and a formula that ties future increases of the minimum wage to an annual wage index.
Oppose Predatory Payday Lending
Payday loans are a predatory product that charge triple-digit interest rates and entice borrowers into a debt trap. LAMPa will continue to oppose any efforts to introduce predatory payday lending and the weakening of Pennsylvania’s strong consumer protection laws.
Safeguard Benefits and Access to Benefits
When parents in low-income families go to work, earn promotions, work extra hours, or take second jobs, they and their families should be appreciably better off. Yet quite often, even though they have more income, these families do not feel like they are getting ahead. One reason is that families that rely on public assistance work supports — like SNAP or cash assistance — face a high “marginal tax rate” when they begin to earn wages or when their wages increase. Many public assistance programs include earned income disregards to assure that families are better off when they go to work or get raises. Because of these disregards, benefits go down by less than earned income has gone up. But the amount by which the family is better off can be relatively small – not always enough to make an appreciable difference in the family’s ability to make ends meet. Public benefit program asset tests pose another problem for low-income working families. When a family begins to be able to save money – say, for emergencies or their children’s education – they face the possibility of becoming ineligible for important public assistance work supports, due to having assets in excess of a program’s asset limit.
2. INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Fund the State Housing Trust Fund
Four years ago LAMPa helped to pass the State Housing Trust Fund, which is funded by natural gas impact fees. More than 2,900 families and individuals have been helped through rental assistance, utility assistance, purchase assistance, homeowner repairs, rental rehabs, new construction, or substantial rehab of vacant properties for affordable homes. Another 287 sites have been acquired and/or demolished for future homes within reach of people with low incomes. The $26.2M invested is expected to leverage another $191M of economic activity. LAMPa is working with housing partners to expand the fund to non-gas producing counties in order to create jobs, strengthen communities and prevent homelessness across the Commonwealth.
3. IMPROVE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
We will continue to focus on ensuring that all Pennsylvanians have access to high-quality, affordable health care. In concert with the PA Health Access Network, LAMPa will continue to press for expanding Medicaid to reach the greatest number of people who fall into the health care coverage gap. Most of the people in the coverage gap are working and earned too much to benefit from the current Medicaid program in Pennsylvania.
4. PROMOTE CIVIL RIGHTS
To improve transparency and trust in policing, LAMPa will work with partners, including the ACLU and YWCA of Harrisburg’s racial justice program on legislation to require demographic data collection in pedestrian and traffic stops. The legislation would achieve that by requiring all departments in PA to pass the PA Chiefs of Police Association’s certification program, which includes the data collection requirement. Currently, 96 departments voluntarily participate in that program. The proposed bill would also require cultural competency training in all departments.
Prohibiting LGBT Discrimination
It is currently legal to discriminate against persons in employment, housing, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. House Bill and Senate Bill 300 in the 2014 session would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by adding these categories.
5. CARE FOR CREATION
The LAMPa Creation Care Leadership Team will lead efforts to design an education, action and advocacy campaign around stewardship of water resources in the Commonwealth.
LAMPa will work for passage of the Pa. Dream Act, while simultaneously working with the PA State System of Higher Education to encourage consistent application of the current in-state tuition policy.
C. ELCA ADVOCACY FEDERAL PRIORITIES
1. FEDERAL CHILD NUTRITION and WIC REAUTHOORIZATION ACT helps fight childhood hunger and prevent nutrition-related health problems for low-income mothers and their children.
2. SUPPORT THE OLDER AMERICANS ACT to provide funding to ensure older Americans remain healthy, economically secure, and independent in their homes and communities.
3. CONTINUE WITH CLEAN AIR FOR ALL GOD’S CHILDREN CAMPAIGN to support a strong carbon-emission plan in Pennsylvania
D. LUTHERAN SERVICES IN PENNSYLVANIA PRIORITIES
As part of LAMPa’s partnership with Lutheran Services in Pennsylvania, LAMPa will work with its member organizations on issues that they have outlined to:
1. Raise concern about revenue and mandated services, effecting cost as part of the ongoing important discussion about the minimum wage issue.
2. Sustaining 501c3 status and status as a purely charitable organization. Were municipalities to tax nor for profit agencies, it would significantly undercut the amount of benevolent care provided.
3. Inefficiency in regulation and regulatory reform. It is frequently the case that a change in regulation which would simplify processes could result in significant cost reduction. Attention to this in a season when legislative activity could be painfully slow may a better avenue for change.