PA Bishops, Hunger Leaders, Take to Hill for a Strong Farm Bill
Pennsylvania bishops, synod staff and hunger advocates took to Capitol Hill on Oct. 26 to call on leaders to pass a Farm Bill reauthorization that feeds the hungry here and abroad, supports healthy rural and farming communities and reflects care for creation.
Visits to congressional offices and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) came one day after the House elected a new speaker following three contentious weeks of leadership battles and a missed deadline for the massive agriculture, nutrition and conservation legislation. In the midst of the lingering chaos, the Pennsylvania delegation prayed with and for leaders on both sides of the aisle and urged them to work toward bipartisan support for the Farm Bill, especially ELCA priorities.
“My day on the Hill was such a powerful and spiritual experience,” said the Rev. Bryan Penman, Director of Evangelical
Mission and Assistant to Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Patricia Davenport. “Meeting with lawmakers to share stories about what is going on in many of our congregations, to share news from the front lines about how their pieces of legislation are impacting real lives was such a moving experience. Especially in times when so much feels out of our control – it gave me a sense of agency in the face of what so often feels like a never-ending battle.”
Penman was one of eight from Pennsylvania who made the trip, joining Northeastern PA Synod Bishop Christopher deForest, Northwestern PA Synod Bishop Michael Lozano, and synod hunger leaders Deacon Amy Santoriello (SWPA), the Rev. Karl Runser (Upper Susquehanna) and the Rev. Bruce Davidson (SEPA), plus LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale and Hunger Advocacy Fellow Quentin Bernhard.
They carried with them stories and personal experience with feeding ministries in every part of the Commonwealth that point to need that has risen dramatically in the past year as well as accounts from companion synods around the globe, where climate change is further disrupting their ability to feed their communities.
“My eyes were opened to the difference we can make, as lay persons, pastors and deacons,” deForest said. “The congressional staff take note that we have shown up, and we care about issues of hunger, poverty, equity, and community – all of which are encompassed in the content of the Farm Bill. It was particularly powerful to share with them how much we have in common. Our Pennsylvania representatives are committed to bipartisan solutions, and it was affirming to bring concerns for our neighbors that bring us together, and work for the good of all. Praying together with them was also so meaningful and effective. So glad I came and got to represent all of NE PA!”
The delegation met with the offices of Rep. Glenn Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Sen. John Fetterman, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Sen. Robert Casey, all of whom expressed support for ELCA priorities in the bill, even if they differed in estimates of when reauthorization might occur. They also met with USDA staff to learn about the Biden Administration’s nutrition priorities and initiatives and to press for administrative policies that could expand access to nutritious food, advance equity and protect the land, air and water.
“I am profoundly humbled to be able to represent the good ministry many of our congregations are doing – it’s further testimony that we need each other to make ministry possible,” Penman said “We had the chance to meet with lawmakers on both sides and talk about our common care of people who are hungry. We advocated for the use of programs in the Farm Bill that create funding for programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). We met with faith-based leaders in the USDA who shared some of our frustrations as how these various pieces of legislation get enacted for people in our country and we heard about programs that are coming that will benefit people this summer! There is a lot that we can educate ourselves on about how we can advocate for more hunger education in our communities. ”
The far-reaching impact of a reauthorized farm bill is anticipated by many in the ELCA. The target for Congress to enact a new farm bill passed in early October, and it is expected that it will be months until an agreement is likely to be reached on a new bill. ELCA Advocacy continues to urge for the reshaping of the bill, based on listening sessions held around the country and the experiences of our ministries here and around the globe. ELCA Washington office staff coordinated advocacy for Pennsylvania Lutherans, including a letter from all seven bishops to their congressional delegation.
“I found the work of the ELCA Advocacy office to be impactful,” said Lozano. “I appreciated their work in coordinating and facilitating the meetings with the Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania representatives. But more importantly, it is the passion I sensed among the staff which was echoed by the delegation from our state in speaking about the importance of the Farm Bill for so many individuals across our state from rural farmers to children in summer feeding programs in our cities and the importance of programs like SNAP and the need to continue to find ways to end hunger in our state, nation and across the globe.”