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Thursday, March 31, 2011

George Will's opening day baseball quiz

My good friend and college roommate, Dr. Jerry Cook sent me this delightful challenge for opening day from baseball fan/fanatic, Washington Post columnist George F. Will

Check it out here

Opening Day. . .at Last!

In recognition of "Opening Day 2011," enjoy the following reflection on the importance and transcendence of the national passtime! 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Spring is here, and Americans' thoughts turn — once again — to baseball
By Roger Rosenblatt
Parade Magazine, Sunday, March 27, 2011

When the game was over, I stood with a bunch of kids outside Yankee Stadium, waiting to get autographs. The Indians’ Bob Feller burst through the door, a losing-pitcher’s scowl on his face, and plowed through us, muttering his irritation. Offended, I reported it to my dad, who suggested I write a letter of complaint to the New York Times. I was 10, and it was 1951. I can’t recall if the Times ran my letter, or even if I mailed it. But the incident suggests what an innocent time that was, long before big money divided fans from the stars, when players were expected to sign baseballs and chat with kids in the street.

Yet even now, when a so-so reliever costs $5 million and the stadium serves quiche, baseball retains most of its innocence. Here we are, older and jaded, and still giddy as the season begins. Nothing in American life excites us this way. Of course, my “we” and “us” assume everyone loves the game, but why not? Baseball is America. It’s competitive. It’s green. And it’s such a well-made invention.
 
Read more here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CitySquare Thrift

CitySquare Thrift Store
formerly Central Dallas Ministries Thrift Store

Want instant news of new arrivals to our store?

Follow the CitySquare Thrift Store on Twitter

Spring Cleaning?
Please remember us when you are ready to discard clothing, house wares and other items that you no longer need. We will turn them into food, health care, housing and hope for our neighbors living in poverty. Simply drop them by the CitySquare Thrift Store anytime we are open. We will help you unload, and always have a receipt for your tax records.

Have furniture, appliances and other items too large to drop-off?
It is easy to arrange for our truck to pick them up. Simply call Will at 214.887.8800 and he will send the truck as soon as possible.

To donate a vehicle, running or not, please call Dale at 972.233.2700

Your budget getting tight, but you and your family need cool clothes for warm weather?
Use the attached coupon to save $5 off any purchase of $20 or more. With our low, low prices, you can get 5 adult tops and/or pants and shorts for only $15 with this coupon !!!! You can print it, or simply mention your special code TS101 to the cashier when you check-out. Hint, the coupon can be used for any items in the Store.

CitySquare Thrift Store - 1213 N Washington, Dallas 75204
At the corner of Live Oak and N Washington, a few blocks from Baylor Hospital

Store Hours- Monday-Friday 9-6, Saturdays 10-3 214.887.8800

Furniture – Clothing – House Wares – Vintage – Thousands of “Treasures”

The only thing Thrift about our Store are the prices!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Public benefits benefit all of us. . .

We live in a society that provides some benefits, though limited, for the poorest and weakest among us. 

That said, we often over look the fact that these benefits designed to lift "the poor" also benefit the rest of us. For example, SNAP funds (food stamps) are spent in retail grocery stores who benefit from the purchases the public benefits make possible.  SNAP is a huge positive to Kroger's bottom line, resulting in jobs, dividends to share holders and economic growth in the community overall. 

What is true of SNAP funds is also true of other public benefits received by low-income families.  In fact, one of the quickest methods for injecting life into any economy is by means of direct benefits to those at the bottom of the economic ladder.  For some reason most of us don't understand or give much thought to this economic reality. 

Texas is not too proficient at claiming the benefits from the federal government that should be coming back to us.  I say "back," because the benefits are funded by taxes we've already paid.  When our state fails to enroll, certify and qualify eligible persons for the benefits for which they qualify, the result is a significant capital lost to our state's economy. 

And, it is clear that our record of recovering those benefits is not good. 

Here's the sad news about Texas and unclaimed federal dollars across a broad array of public benefits annually: 

SNAP (food stamps) $2.4 billion unclaimed

Energy assistance  $568.7 million unclaimed

Childrens' Health insurance  $1.2 billion unclaimed

Children's Medicaid  $866.2 million unclaimed

Adult Medicaid (aged & disabled) $523.6 million

Medicare Part D Low-Income RX  $236 million

Pell Grants for college tuition $349.3 million

For a grand total, conservatively estimated at $6.1 billion annually!

We fail to enroll all of the eligible participants and we loose the funding for Texas.  As a result, tax dollars that I pay leave Texas and benefit other states.  During tough economic times for our state, this loss is completely unacceptable. 

In addition, each of these funds, once claimed and spent, possess and exhibit a "multiplier effect" in the economy.  In other words, these funds and their impact on the economy multiply as they circulate and are spent and respent through various sectors of our economy.  

Here's the multiplier factor for several of these funds designed to assist the poorest and weakest among us:

SNAP (food stamps) spent in retail grocery stores has a multiplier effect of 1.95 per dollar spent.

CHIP's multiplier effect is 3.17 per dollar spent.

Adult Medicaid--3.17 per dollar.

Energy assistance--2.25 per dollar.

Pell Grants--3.15 per dollar.

Medicare RX--2.67 per dollar. 

The overall impact of these public benefits beyond the aid to poor families themselves includes a stimulus to the economy of the state in real dollars and in new jobs.  When we fail to draw down these benefits, we fail our own economy and we act in opposition to our own interests as tax payers.

We can do better. We should start by simply understanding the reality behind the numbers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Texas tax system: fair or unfair?

Tax Fairness

Fairness of a tax system can be judged by comparing the percentage of income different households pay in taxes. In a state with a fair tax system, households with higher incomes, who can afford to pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes, pay more.

In Texas, the households with the lowest incomes pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes; the households with the highest incomes pay the lowest percentage of their income in taxes. In other words, those who can least afford it pay the most. A system that takes a higher percentage of the income of a
lower-income family is called "regressive."

Texas has the fifth most regressive state and local tax system of the 50 states.

Households with the Lowest Income Pay the Highest Percentage in State and Local Taxes


[This report provided by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.  To read the entire, much more extensive report click here.]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Work--Part 3

This post is the final in a 3-part series on work and CitySquare's efforts to provide hard skills, construction training for participants.  The stories are encouraging and are presented here in "raw" case notes.

Cleto Villafana - Cleto was born in Mexico and came to Dallas, Texas when he was 15. He struggled initially with poor English skills but he wasn’t going to let anything as “minor as language” get in his way of achieving the success he sought. Cleto will be quick to tell you one of the reasons he has been able to do the things he has done is because of the support of his girlfriend (who became his wife), they met soon after he came to Dallas. With her help, he greatly improved his English and even though he did not graduate from high school, he did not stop learning. Cleto has his permanent resident card, a social security card and his driver’s license and hopes to eventually become a U. S. Citizen. He lost no time finding work when he married his girlfriend so he could support his “new” family. Things were going well until the economy slowed to a crawl and Cleto was laid off from his job and had been unable to find work. Cleto attended an orientation for Build4Success, thinking he probably didn’t have what it would take to get into the program because he lacked confidence in his ability to read and write English. He was very nervous about the TABE test but the WorkPaths staff, along with his wife, encouraged him to not let the test stop him, so Cleto gathered his courage and took the test. To his surprise he did well on the TABE test; he didn’t lack knowledge, he lacked the confidence in himself. He scored well and was selected to be a part of the program. Completing the coursework was not as easy for Cleto as for those whose native language is English but he worked hard, he’s smart and he was determined. After graduation, Cleto told the WorkPaths staff he was interested in working for a mechanical contractor. One of WorkPaths’ employer partners was interested in hiring Cleto but one of their requirements was new hires had to have a high school diploma or GED, he did not have either of these. During the B4S training, he told the WorkPaths Director he would like to enroll in GED classes and this information was transmitted to the employer. Due in large part to his strong performance during training, his dogged determination, and the recommendation from WorkPaths, the contractor agreed to hire him with the condition he get his GED after he was hired. WorkPaths arranged for him to start GED classes at CEF within a few weeks after graduation and on his own, Cleto also enrolled in ESL classes. He completed his GED with a score of 98 and the contractor is very pleased with him. Some people will allow perceived obstacles to stand in their way of achieving their goals while others will find a way to overcome challenges and succeed. Cleto is proof if you really want to do something and are willing to do what it takes to achieve your goal, you can accomplish it. “Can’t” is an English word he has chosen not to use.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Work--Part 2

This is the second in a 3-part series about participants in CitySquare's Build4Success hard skills, construction training program. 

Michael McCall – Michael was in the Build4Success class with Sam (see previous post on 3-25-2011). They became friends during the training and have remained good friends since then. Michael was a leader in the class and was quick to help his fellow classmates if they were struggling with any course work. He even tutored some in math. A few months after completing training, Michael went to work for Humphrey & Associates electrical contractors and is now in his second year of electrical apprenticeship at CEF. After he had been on the job for a few months, Michael had saved enough to purchase a new truck; he called me and asked me if I thought it would be ok if he gave his old car to Sam (Griffin). He said it wasn’t much of a car but it was better than none and maybe Sam could use it as a stepping stone into a better vehicle. I told him that would be between them but wanted him to make sure he transferred the title and did all the paperwork, he did. (This car helped Sam get into his truck – longer story on this than I want to write here). After Sam’s shooting, Michael has continued to prove to be the kind of friend all of us hope to be. He picks up Sam for dinner occasionally and is there to help Sam however he can. Michael also participated in tryouts as an evaluator this last time with Sam.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City.  The fire claimed the lives of 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women in their teens and early twenties died in the terrible fire.  Public outcry resulted in numerous labor reforms, building codes and factory inspections. 

Read more here



Work--Part 1

What follows are case notes, three stories to be presented in three parts, about students who participated in CitySquare's Build4Success construction skill training program.  The difficulties folks face and the bravery them employ to create better lives keeps me going.  The pathway forward and upward seldom turns out to be built along a straight line!  But progress happens!

Sam Griffin – Sam has struggled with a number of issues since completing the Build4Success program in 2009. When he originally enrolled in B4S, he had been out of prison on parole only a few months after having served 17 years of a 45 year sentence for armed robbery. He got his driver’s license and then landed a job with Ed Bell Construction; after he went to work he was doing well. He saved enough to buy a truck (a deal through Ed Bell, they arranged for him to purchase one of the trucks their company was selling and he got a great deal from them). After working at Ed Bell for about 9 months, he was offered a better position with Azteca-Omega. The job at Azteca-Omega would provide him with benefits and training. He left his job at Ed Bell on the Friday before last Easter and was to start with Azteca-Omega on Monday following Easter (2010) when he was shot early Easter morning in the eye, it was a case of mistaken identity. I think most of us are somewhat familiar with Sam’s story surrounding the shooting but to refresh – Sam lost his eye. The CitySquare family rallied around Sam, even taking up a collection to help him out; Project Access worked with him getting his medical needs met, SWS helped him get moved out of a bad living situation in a bad part of town (he was forced to keep all his clothes in his truck so his brother wouldn’t steal them). CitySquare's Social Work Services (SWS) has helped Sam get into an apartment he found in the Junius Heights area and through donations he has been able to furnish it and SWS has helped him with his rent. Sam has endured several surgeries to repair damage to his eye socket and now has a prosthetic eye; he still suffers hearing loss as a result of the shooting. This past fall, Sam enrolled in the Path2Success course offered by WorkPaths and graduated in December just before Christmas. He has not been released to return to work yet but we anticipate that happening soon. My Sunday School class is going to purchase the hearing aids he needs, this should be the last step in being released to work. He will be part of the initial crew on the Habitat project in which CitySquare will be framing 50 new homes.

Through all of this, Sam has kept a positive outlook and has worked hard at recovering from his injuries, both physical and emotional. He has spoken at orientations about the opportunities afforded through WorkPaths training, he participated as an evaluator at tryouts, and most recently came to the DFW Education Center to talk to the current training class about ‘taking the course seriously’. He is very articulate and one of the other evaluators at tryouts told us he should be a motivational speaker. What he says comes from his heart. He is a great example of "hope."

Thursday, March 24, 2011












“COVER TEXAS NOW”
ADVOCACY DAY AT THE CAPITOL
MARCH 30, 2011


Join advocates from around the state as we focus lawmakers’ attention on health insurance.

OVERVIEW:

• Meet at the Capitol at 10am (buses will be available from Dallas)

• Hear up-to-the-minute information from legislators and issue experts and share breakfast with health advocates from across the state

• Gather on the Capitol Steps for a press conference on the importance of health care in this legislative session

• Participate in scheduled meetings with legislators and their staffs

• Lobby Day events will end at 5pm

Texas has had the highest uninsured rate in the nation for two decades, and it’s time to get covered!

• Texans have new opportunities to get quality, affordable insurance and our state can benefit from new federal resources—legislators need to make health care reform work in Texas.

• We can’t balance the budget on the backs of sick people. Lawmakers are proposing cuts up to 30% for health insurance and health care services—this will take our state farther backward instead of helping get Texans covered!

Join us if any of the following issues are important to you:

• Protecting CHIP and Medicaid health coverage for 3 million Texas children and nearly 1 million adults including expectant moms, seniors and those with disabilities.

• Ensuring that hospitals stay open for everyone. Cutting resources to hospitals reduces availability and puts everyone at-risk during a medical emergency.

• Ensuring seniors and the disabled are able to continue receiving care in nursing homes and in their communities

• Ensuring access to all the benefits Texans should get from national health reform and preparing for full reform implementation in 2014.

HOW CAN YOU SIGN UP TO ATTEND LOBBY DAY?

Register NOW! Cover Texas Now Lobby Day is free, and registering early helps us make your day as worthwhile as possible.

Visit www.covertexasnow.org to register for Lobby Day and check bus pick-up location and times.

Participants should wear a bright green t-shirt to the event!

Dallas Bus and Travel Info

Team Lead: Jessica Davila (jdavila@citysquare.org)

Bus Meeting Information:

East Dallas Christian Church
629 North Peak St., Dallas, TX 75246
Parking lot on the southwest corner of Worth St. and N. Peak St

Time: Meet at 5:30 am to leave at 5:45 am sharp

Need more details? Call 214-303-2146 or email JDavila@citysquare.org

Can’t make it to Austin on March 30?

Contact us for more information on how you can get involved – in your own backyard! Sign up for email alerts, contact your legislator, or even plan an event in your area for the same day. Let your lawmakers know that people in your community are talking about health!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Amazing offering

Normally, stories about faith and religion appear here on Sundays.  The following story about one church's response to the recent CBS News program 60 Minutes' report on homelessness is exceptional, to say the least. 

After you read it, I'd love to hear your reactions.







Spontaneous offering at First Baptist Orlando
raises $5.6 million for homeless

Mar 15, 2011
By DAVID ETTINGER

ORLANDO (FBW) – Responding to the homeless from "a stirring" deep in their hearts, the congregation of First Baptist Church in Orlando raised $5.6 million in donations and pledges for the needy of Central Florida with an impromptu offering March 12-13.

“We’ve had a stirring in our heartand spirit that God placed the church here for this time because of foreclosures, because of this new homelessness,” Senior Pastor David Uth said. “We believe we were put here by divine choice and we have got to make a difference.”

And make a difference is what the people of First Baptist Orlando did.

Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor said he was surprised by the unprecedented response.

“I am completely overwhelmed by what our people have done,” de Armas said.“I never expected this kind of number.”

The outpouring of love and generosity was a result of a March 6 story on the CBS news program 60 Minutes which Liz Butler, the marketing/communications manager at the church, described as a "new" kind of homelessness in Central Florida.

Families are living in motels because they lost their jobs, their homes to foreclosure, Butler said.

The news report was seen by millions of viewers across the country.

One of the viewers was Christian author and teacher Bruce Wilkinson who was already scheduled to speak at First Baptist Orlando during the March 12-13 weekend.

“He saw the story while he was working on his message,” Butler said. “When he saw the interview, he said, ‘Wow. We have to do something.’ He called Pastor Uth and said, ‘Your people are going to bring in $1 million to help these needy families.’”

First Baptist Orlando has had a history of raising large sums of money following national and international disasters. The church raised hundreds of thousands of dollars following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. But even Pastor Uth was skeptical about raising $1 million in just one weekend.

Uth told Wilkinson, “I don’t know if we can raise that much,” adding he would be the first to admit that he happily underestimated the giving spirit of the church.

Wilkinson laid out the dire need of the people of Central Florida and urged the congregation to contribute whatever they could. The results were individual contributions ranging from one dollar to thousands of dollars and one as a high as $1 million.

“We’ve got to help Orlando and let them know there is help,” Uth said. “We have to say to them, 'God placed us here for you.' This church started in 1871 and we believe God started this church here for a reason. I believe He knew this day was coming and He positioned us so we could make a difference.”

The offering impressed De Armas, noting it required a major sacrifice for many members.

“What is really shocking about how much we gave is that our people are really struggling now,” de Armas said. “Our people are hurting. I thought there was no way they could give $1 million for the homeless, let alone $5.6 million.”

According to de Armas, it is one thing to hear about what happened, but completely another to have been there and seen it taking place.

“Seeing a miracle happen is an amazing thing,” he said. “As the donations and pledges were coming in, I felt as if I had a grandstand seat to see God at work in the hearts and minds of the people.”

The outpouring of giving has been a converging of events.

“We have a local missions task force [which] has been at work for some time,” de Armas explained. “Their number one initiative was for us to deal with homelessness and the ‘new’ kind of homelessness — families in transition. It was a ripe field and Bruce plowed into that field. The fruit it produced has been amazing.”

First Baptist Orlando has had a long partnership with numerous Central Florida Christian organizations, just about all of whom will be receiving funds from the money raised over the miraculous weekend.

“These ministries are equipped to help with the issue of homelessness,” de Armas said. “Some of those organizations include the Coalition for the Homeless, Orlando Rescue Mission, and Christian Service Center. All of them are really trying to help people who are facing the problems the 60 Minutes story highlighted.”

Besides distributing the money to those who can best get it to those in need, de Armas also wants to see members of the congregation getting involved.

“We’re looking to deploy our people,” he said. “We have an army of them who want to serve and we’re going to give them a way to do it.”

For Uth, current president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, the enormity of the money raised was matched only by the outpouring of love demonstrated by the congregation.

“[Our people] are willing to sacrifice so that others may be blessed,” Uth said. “That’s really what First Baptist Orlando is all about. That’s how we want to be known and how we should be known. Our people were absolutely amazing, unbelievable.”

David Ettinger is a writer for First Baptist Church in Orlando.
Copyright © 2011 Florida Baptist Witness

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Action Alert- Call Your State Representative Today!

From Texas Appleseed and the Anti Poverty Coalition:
Today, the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee will be hearing  bills related to payday and auto title lending. HB 410, HB 656, HB 661, and HB 1323 are identical bills that close the loophole in Texas law that permits 500% interest rates (and higher) on payday and car title loans. In Texas, there are more than 3,000 of these high cost lenders operating through the loophole.
TAKE ACTION!
Now is the time to let the committee members know that you want them to support the four bills that close the CSO loophole (HB 410, HB 656, HB 661, and HB 1323 ) and that 500% interest rates hurt families and hurt communities. The only true solution to this abuse is to close the loophole, which the state legislature must do. State legislators are hearing lots from the payday and auto title industry and their army of lobbyists, so now they must hear from you.

Let them know TODAY that you think 500% interest is wrong and the state must close the loophole by passing HB 410, HB 656, HB 661, or HB 1323. 

Each phone number begins with (512) 463.  The remaining numbers are listed next to committee member's names: 

Rep Vicki Truitt 0690
Rep. Rafael Anchia 0746
Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson 0135
Rep. Brandon Creighton 0726
Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna 0614
Rep. Ken Legler 0460
Rep. Barbara Nash 0562
Rep. Rob Orr 0538
Rep. Marc Veasery 0716

To find out which State Senator represents you click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Greed or Enterprise

Ran across this interesting essay written by Charles Kadlec and published in the on-line jouranl, Business Insiderlast week.  The column appears in a section tagged  "the Daily Reckoning." 

It's worth reading.  Let me know what you think after you've read it.  What do you make of his distinctions?

Enterprise, Not Greed, Creates A Better World
The Daily Reckoning
Mar. 16, 2011, 3:58 PM

Greed: The word itself has become central to the political debate over the budget, taxes, union benefits, what constitutes ethical behavior, and the shape of our society.

The problem is the indiscriminate use of the word has blurred its meaning.

Those on the left use the word as an epitaph against the successful as epitomized by Sen. Bernie Sanders “When is enough enough?” he asked in his impassioned plea for raising tax rates “on the rich.”

But at the same time, those on the right embrace “greed” as vital to the functioning of our economy. Economist Walter Williams, for example, wrote in his essay “The Virtue of Greed,” “It’s greed and not compassion that gets things done.”

This lack of moral clarity threatens our liberty. It destroys our ability to distinguish between theft and the pursuit of happiness; between vice and virtue, and undermines our ability to be a self-governing people based on the norms of ethical behavior.

To read the entire article click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A prayer heard on first Sunday of Lent

Pastoral Prayer 3-13-2011

Lord of light and life and love, the psalmist says that you are our rock, our fortress and our shelter. Though a host should encamp against us we need not fear. You are the one whose steadfast love endures forever. And as we begin the season of Lent we are reminded of all that you have sacrificed in love for us in the cross of Christ and of the mercy and grace poured out on us through his resurrection. So in this time of silence we give thanks for all the blessings you have showered upon us.

Yet the psalmist also calls us to confess our sin and turn away from evil. He chides us that silence in the face of this call is a curse not a blessing. We have much to confess. We live in a culture of comfort, convenience and consumerism. And somehow we who are most comfortable are content to stand by as teachers are laid off, millions are denied health care, and the most vulnerable of our society are stripped of the protections once guaranteed them by the generations who preceded us. And few of us our willing to sacrifice to save others as you sacrificed to save us. We are all about maintaining our spending power even at the expense of others’ livelihoods or even their lives. Our individual fear, greed and pride have combined with others to create a society which cares less about the vulnerable than any other wealthy democracy. As those who have pledged to follow the one who calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, we are conscious that we have fallen far short of our calling.

Lord, the psalmist declares, happy are those to whom you impute no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Lord, help us to face our sin. Help us once again to take on Jesus’ mission to bring good news to the poor, and to set free the oppressed and, yes, forgive our debtors. Fill us with the power of your Holy Spirit that throughout this Lenten season we might follow in the footsteps of Christ, that we who have received his compassion, his caring and his new creation, will share our many gifts with those who are in need.

We thank you, Father, that you sent your loving son to be our savior. Your love continues to make us a new people. As a people of love, help us to serve you and our neighbors in all that we do, that we might continue to build for you kingdom right where we are.

We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray saying…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Dr. Tom Downing
Associate Minister
First United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

Friday, March 18, 2011

Budgets as moral documnets

I picked this report up from the United Methodist News Service last week.  Worth considering.  Where does faith and its values fit in the process of prioritizing funding decisions? 

Budget’s ‘moral’ impact
Faith leaders condemn ‘draconian cuts’
By Linda Bloom

Faith leaders are expressing concern over proposed U.S. federal budget changes that could slash aid to the poor. Cuts passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would reduce international food-aid programs by up to 50%.

UMNS — The poor have no one staging mass protests on their behalf, but religious leaders are speaking out about how proposed changes to the U.S. budget for 2011 and 2012 could affect them.

“The message is consistent year in and year out: We want to make sure we’re protecting those living in poverty or on the economic margins both in the U.S and around the world,” explained John Hill, director of Economic & Environmental Justice at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.

In a March 1 letter to Congress, 16 religious leaders — including Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist who is executive director of Church World Service — expressed their full commitment to ministry with the poor.

“None of us can prosper and be secure while some of us live in misery and desperation,” the letter said. “In an interdependent world, the security and prosperity of any nation is inseparable from that of even the most vulnerable both within and beyond their borders.”

Last month, President Barack Obama released his budget proposal for 2012, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $61 billion budget-cut package for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The U.S. Senate has yet to agree on the House cuts. The president signed a budget extension bill March 2 that will keep federal agencies open through March 18 and enact $4 billion in new spending cuts.

Draconian cuts

Politicians on both sides of the aisle are proposing draconian cuts that will greatly compromise “our capacity as a nation to respond to situations of need,” McCullough said. “The budget reduction essentially reduces what we would call the safety net for poor people and for vulnerable communities here in the United States.”

Faith leaders understand the concerns over the nation’s financial deficits. Drastically reducing discretionary programs for the poor that constitute an extremely small part of the budget is not a solution to the economic crisis, they pointed out in the letter to Congress.

“These cuts will devastate those living in poverty, at home and around the world, cost jobs, and in the long run, will harm, not help, our fiscal situation,” the letter said. “While ‘shared sacrifice’ can be an appropriate banner, those who would be devastated by these cuts have nothing left to sacrifice.”

The sacrifice is global, not just local, said Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. And while only a fraction, 0.5% of the budget, relates to international aid, “for the people who are affected by these cuts, it makes a lot of difference,” according to Kemper.

Budget decisions have ethical as well as financial implications, say Christian leaders organized by Jim Wallis and Sojourners, a faith-based social justice organization. Those leaders took out a full-page ad in the Feb. 28 edition of Politico, a newspaper devoted to politics.

’What would Jesus Cut?’

Titled “What would Jesus Cut?,” the ad declared, “A budget is a moral document.” It called on legislators to defend international aid for pandemic diseases, critical child-health and family-nutrition programs, “proven” work and income supports for poverty-level families and educational support, particularly in low-income communities.

Sojourners, a faith-based social justice organization, took out a full-page ad with a simple question in the Feb. 28 issue of Politico, a publication devoted to politics.

“Our faith tells us that the moral test of a society is how it treats the poor,” the ad said. “As a country, we face difficult choices, but whether or not we defend vulnerable people should not be one of them.”

Engaging in ministry with the poor is a mission priority for The United Methodist Church, and its 13 agencies and commissions have adopted “guiding principles and foundations” for that work.

Social holiness

“It’s fundamental to our faith that we care for the poor and vulnerable,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. He pointed out that in the Wesleyan tradition holiness does not exist without social holiness. “We are a faith community who believes faith should not only promote our personal growth, it should also equip and mobilize us for mission and service to the world,” he said.

It’s about personally being involved and being with the poor.

The understanding of that ministry goes beyond charity, according to Kemper. “It’s not only about giving money. It’s not only about doing a soup kitchen. It’s about personally being involved and being with the poor,” he emphasized.

Advocacy actions over federal budget matters since January have included a call by faith leaders to Obama to renew his campaign pledge to “cut poverty in half” in the next 10 years and a Valentine’s Day lobbying effort to “show love” and make the poor a priority.

Alternative solutions

After the House bill passed, Hill said National Council of Churches leaders drafted the March 1 letter that reflected deep concern that these cuts are particularly affecting faith-based anti-poverty ministries, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Alternative solutions exist, Hill asserted. At times of fiscal crisis in the 1990s, he pointed out that Congress was able to make reductions while still protecting those in poverty. “As a result, even though there were very large cuts, poverty rates were down,” he said. “We’re basically asking them to do that again.”

The House bill cuts in the 2011 budget also would greatly affect international assistance, according to the Washington Post. It slashes international food-aid programs by up to 50% and State Dept. funding for refugees by more than 40%.

The International Disaster Assistance Fund would be reduced by 67%. McCullough questioned this cut because it is obvious, judging from the outpouring of support by Americans to help victims of disasters like the Asian tsunami and Haiti earthquake, “people expect the United States is going to be in a position to respond to these types of disasters.”

Makes no sense

Humanitarian agencies like Church World Service already are aware, McCullough said, that when resources for aid and development work are severely curtailed “the potential for [human] survival diminishes dramatically.”

It also makes no sense to cut aid that helps avoid military conflicts and fights terrorism, said Kemper. He used as an example the new nation of South Sudan emerging after years of civil war. “If you take away funding and aid from these countries, they get more fragile,” he said.

Because of the denomination’s pledge to help eradicate malaria, United Methodist leaders are particularly concerned about the House bill’s decrease in the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria & Tuberculosis by 40%. Kemper called it “a blow” to church members trying so hard to raise $75 million themselves through the Imagine No Malaria initiative.

Some of the “unacceptable” consequences of that budget reduction were pointed out by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she spoke to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Those consequences include the denial of treatment and prevention measures for malaria to 5 million children and family members; denial of treatment for tropical diseases to some 16 million people and a loss of millions of available polio and measles vaccines.

“It means children will die, more people will get sick, and preventable diseases will not be prevented,” said Hollon, whose agency coordinates Imagine No Malaria.

Editor’s note: Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service reporter based in New York.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A death

Yesterday we discovered that one of our residents at CityWalk had passed away in his apartment.  He had been dead for several hours we were told. 

I won't refer to him by name so as to protect his identity.  His name is important to us.  Sadly, it was not known to nearly enough other people. 

A number of other residents missed seeing him.  They brought his absence to the attention of property management and to us.  We discovered his body upon entering his home. 

He was basically a loner. 

He was almost 67 years old. 

He lived on his Social Security income that amounted to $9,627 annually, $802 monthly.  His housing was subsidized by a housing voucher provided by the Dallas Housing Authority. 

He stood 5' 11" and weighed 140 pounds, a thin, wisp of a fellow. 

Pleasant.  Minded his own business. 

I wish we had done a better job of knowing him. 

He died in his own home, not on some side street or behind some building downtown.   For that we are grateful. 

But, his life is a loss.  His life mattered. 

I just wish I had really known him. 

His friends in the building grieved.  That's what communities do. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What we do

The most common question that I'm asked about CitySquare is a simple, but important one:  "What exactly do you do?"

We spend a good bit of our time answering that key question.  Usually we refer people to our website (http://www.CitySquare.org/).  Often we arrange for a tour that provides us the opportunity to provide a more detailed answer.  In an elevator we talk about our four major areas of concern:  Health, Hunger, Housing and Hope--the 4Hs!

In almost every case the best way to answer the question is to invite a neighbor who knows CitySquare  because of their personal experience in receiving our services.

Here's an example of just that sort of answer.  I share it in an attempt to answer the question one more time!  After you watch and listen, share it with your friends, your business network, your church and your other associates.

As you watch and listen, notice how a number of options fell into place for our friend, including AmeriCorps.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Food Stamps--SNAP: nutrition and poverty

Time changes things.  That's certainly the case with the evolution of the federal food stamp program.  Today, the strategy encompasses more than just hunger, as was the case when the effort began in the early 1960s. 

These days the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) focuses on the nutritional needs of low-income Americans who battled obesity and other chronic illnesses born of their poverty. 

The following report, appearing in the  March 28, 2011 edition of The Nation is very important.  Let me know what you think after your read it.

Food Stamps for Good Food

Melanie Mason
[This article was written with the support of a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy fellowship.]

Coretta Dudley’s monthly grocery shopping strategy is as finely calibrated as a combat plan. Armed with $868 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (the fancy new name for food stamps), she stops first at FoodMaxx, a discount supermarket in East Oakland, where she stocks up on four weeks’ worth of nonperishables: cases of noodles, cans of vegetables and boxes of the sugary cereals her kids like. She also buys fresh fruit—apples and pears and bananas and grapes—but those will be gone in a week. Then she swings by Wal-Mart for bread, eggs and milk. Later, she’ll hit the family-owned meat market, where she chooses hamburger and cube steaks. Other than $100 she sets aside to replenish the milk, eggs and cheese later in the month, that first multipronged attack will last her and her six children, ages 4 to 16, the whole month. That’s the idea, anyway.

Almost 500 miles away, in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, Tsehay Gebere has developed her own shopping plan at the Saturday farmers’ market. The lines are long, and the ten-pound sacks of oranges, plentiful at 9 am, will have disappeared by noon. But Gebere, a weekly fixture at the market, has the inside track. She persuades farmer Bernardino Loera to sock away four bags in his van. Forty-five minutes later, she gets back to Loera’s stall and collects her hoarded prize.

Like Dudley, Gebere receives food stamp benefits, for herself and her four children. Like Dudley, Gebere shops at discount supermarkets like Food 4 Less for most of her groceries. But while Dudley buys four bags of fruit every month, Gebere buys at least four bags every week—made possible by the free money she gets at the farmers’ market.

Yes, free money—though the technical name is “double voucher.” The market matches a certain amount of money from a customer’s federal food assistance benefits, essentially doubling the customer’s purchasing power. City Heights was one of the first double voucher markets in the country; there are now more than 160 participating farmers’ markets in twenty states. They reach just a tiny fraction of the more than 43 million Americans receiving food stamps. But their very existence raises questions about SNAP’s identity: is it a welfare program or, as its recent name change suggests, a nutrition program? These questions are the subject of lively debate in USDA offices and advocacy circles, where the idea of giving extra money for fruits and veggies, innocuous as it may seem, is exposing fault lines between traditional advocates for the poor and a new coalition of healthy-food activists.

The underlying premise of the modern food stamp program, shaped in the Kennedy/Johnson years, was that the American poor were starving and in need of calories, any calories at all. But there is now a well-documented overlap between the country’s staggering rate of “food insecurity” (the term used by the USDA in lieu of “hunger”) and its escalating obesity rates. In 2009, 43 percent of households below the federal poverty line experienced food insecurity. And if you’re poor, you’re more likely to be obese. Nine of the ten states with the highest poverty levels also rank in the top ten of obesity rates.

That one can be simultaneously food insecure and obese seems like a paradox. But consider that many low-income neighborhoods have few full-service supermarkets. Grocery shopping in the neighborhood likely means buying at corner stores with limited options for healthy choices. Even if those options do exist, they are not necessarily the rational economic choice for someone on a tight budget. The cost per calorie for foods containing fats and oils, sugars and refined grains are extremely low, but these are precisely the foods linked to high obesity rates. Healthy choices like fruits and vegetables are as much as several thousand times more expensive per calorie.



In a California Department of Public Health survey of eating habits, low-income people said they knew the importance of healthy eating. But they still eat fewer fruits and vegetables than the government recommends, less than the American population as a whole. “People said they couldn’t afford it,” says George Manalo-LeClair, legislation director with the California Food Policy Advocates. “It’s cost.”

At the heart of this whole mess—poverty, hunger and declining health—is the food stamp program. Nationwide, the average SNAP beneficiary received $125.31 per month in fiscal year 2009. If food stamps constitute a person’s entire food budget—as often happens, even though the program is intended to supplement recipients’ own money—that translates to just under $1.40 per meal. If you’re looking to buy something that will satiate you for $1.40, you probably won’t be buying broccoli.

Researchers have long studied whether food stamps contribute to obesity. Previously the conclusion was, probably not. But in an Ohio State University study released in the summer of 2009 the finding was, quite possibly yes. The study found that the body mass index (BMI) of program participants is more than one point higher than nonparticipants at the same income level. The longer one is on food stamps, the higher the BMI rises.

To read on click here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pro Life?

Clearly the Texas legislature functions as a strongly "pro-life" elective body. . .up to a point. 

The legislators' decisions during this session indicate that they are determined to take rather drastic measures to protect the unborn.  However, once a child arrives in a low-income family, all bets are off! 

The following story was reported by Christy Hoppe on the actions of our elected representatives appeared in The Dallas Morning News last Thursday, March 10. 

The notion that non-profit organizations and churches can pick up the slack in the budget is simply ill-informed.  Further, the costs associated with cuts in funding for the needed care typically are passed along by medical professionals to those with private insurance.  The fact is, helping poor children helps us all. 

But, you read the report and let me know your reactions.

Bill on pre-abortion sonograms comes as Texas legislators plan to slash contraceptive, OB-GYN care for poor


AUSTIN — The Legislature’s push to limit abortions by compelling women to see a sonogram of fetal development comes as the state is cutting back on medical services to low-income pregnant women.

Republican lawmakers are poised to slash $850 million from pregnancy care and family planning in the next two-year budget — a 29 percent cut from current spending.

That would shut down avenues for poor women to find contraception and choke off payments to OB-GYN doctors who might care for those who become pregnant, advocates say.

“There is a responsibility that comes with this desire to tell women what to do with their pregnancy. Clearly, we’re not meeting it,” said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who has sponsored a bill to extend women’s health services.

Abortion opponents say that although the budget crunch is real, the sonogram requirement isn’t connected to it.

“We can’t solve our problems by eliminating people,” said Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life and a strong supporter of the sonogram requirement that both the House and Senate have approved.

The solution, she said, is for private pregnancy crisis centers, adoption services, religious groups and communities to step up their help for poor women.

“We will pick up the pace. We will meet the need,” Wright said.

Fifty-five percent of Texas births are to women on Medicaid.

Payments to doctors

Most of the proposed budget cuts would come through reducing payments to doctors, who are reimbursed for the care they provide pregnant women on Medicaid. It means physicians will either turn away poor patients or lose money treating them.

Tom Banning, chief executive of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, outlined a grim reality: Medicaid reimburses doctors 70 percent for the cost of services. Most physicians make up the losses in their charges to privately insured patients, but the proposed cuts make that equation harder.

The state has cut reimbursements 2 percent this year and is proposing 10 percent cuts for next year. In addition, Congress is considering a Medicare reimbursement cut of 31 percent.

“It’s got the doctors completely spooked,” Banning said, and many plan to stop seeing patients who require federal help. That will drive more patients to emergency rooms, where their conditions are often worse and
more expensive to treat.

In Athens in East Texas, a group of family doctors began offering prenatal screening for Medicaid patients three years ago. When they started, 120 newborns a year from the area were ending up in the neonatal intensive care unit of Dallas County’s Parkland Memorial Hospital, Banning said.

Last year, it was down to two infants. But if doctors’ payments are cut, “you’ll see a tidal wave hit the emergency room of women who haven’t gotten any prenatal care,” Banning said.

To read entire report click here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Circles and ashes

A litany of confession and pardon from Ash Wednesday. . .

We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken because of our sin of exclusion.
We create separate circles:  the inner circle and the outer circle, the circle of power and the circle of despair, the circle of privilege and the circle of deprivation.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive all who have sinned against us.

We confess that the circle of love is broken whenever there is alienation, whenever there is misunderstanding, whenever there is insensitivity or a hardening of heart.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive all who have sinned against us.

We confess that the circle of love is broken whenever we cannot see eye to eye,
whenver we cannot link hand to hand, whenever we cannot live heart to heart and affirm our differences.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive all who have sinned against us.

Through God's grace we are fogiven, by the mercy of our Creator, through the love of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Budget cuts and low-income backs

State, local lobbyists push to save programs from budget ax

By Kevin Bogardus and Keith Laing - 03/08/11 06:35 AM ET

State and local government officials are flooding Washington to lobby against spending cuts that they say fall disproportionately on domestic programs.

In interviews with The Hill, lobbyists for state and local governments said they understand that the ballooning federal deficit is likely to reduce federal support for roadwork, law enforcement and affordable housing.

But they argue that the sacrifice needed to reduce the deficit should be shared across the board — including by Medicaid, Medicare and defense programs — and not just fall on domestic programs.

“You can’t really solve the deficit by just cutting discretionary, non-military spending. It is such a small part of the budget,” Larry Naake, executive director of the National Association of Counties (NACo), told The Hill. “You end up destroying programs that help a lot of people at the local level.”

The county officials’ group is meeting in Washington this week for its annual legislative conference. Close to 1,600 NACo members will be in town, and many are expected to lobby their home-state delegations about the budget cuts.

The group is concerned about the funding cuts in President Obama’s 2012 budget request and objects to the cuts passed by the House in February for the remainder of fiscal 2011.

Nevertheless, Naake said NACo could support freezing domestic spending at fiscal 2010 levels.

“Once the [continuing resolution] is finished, we will have to start on the proposed budget next year. But it’s not as drastic as anything the House is proposing,” Naake said. “Share the pain across the board, not just with domestic programs.”

One of the biggest priorities of county officials will be protecting funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs). NACo members are being encouraged to wear “Save CDBG” buttons on their suit lapels as they make the rounds on Capitol Hill.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs the grant program, which helps local government officials fund affordable housing and anti-poverty programs as well as infrastructure development.

Under the House Republican continuing resolution, the grant program would be reduced from about $4 billion to $1.5 billion. Other programs that face funding reductions under the legislation are the federal transit program, which would go from $10.7 billion to $10.2 billion; the high-speed rail initiative, which would see its current $3.7 billion in funding wiped out; and community health center grants, which would be reduced by $1 billion.

Naake said the budget cuts would only lead to more unemployment during the tough economic times.

To read entire report click here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cash to the poorest

Novel ideas here, but not surprising results. When we lead with taking the people with the challenges seriously, we usally get remarkable outcomes as a return on our investment!

Read and tell me what your think.

Giving Money to the Homeless Might Actually Work

Nicola Twilley
Food Editor

A few months ago, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit that does amazing work in the field of poverty and social exclusion, issued a surprising report that deserves a much wider readership.

The study evaluated the success of a radical new way of working with the long-term homeless. Instead of soup kitchens, shelters, and mobile health clinics, the charity Broadway simply selected 15 homeless people that their outreach workers had found the hardest to reach (one had been on the streets for an astonishing 45 years), asked them what it was they needed to change their lives—and then bought it for them.

One asked for sneakers and a prepaid cell phone, one needed cash to pay off a loan, one wanted a TV and a comfy chair (to make the move into hostel accommodation more attractive), and one requested a camper van. Each of them received the money to purchase exactly what they asked for, with the condition that they also had to choose a personal "broker" who would help them write a budget.

Two refused to engage with the pilot project altogether, but of the 13 who agreed to take part, 11 are now off the streets. Several have entered treatment for addiction and mental health issues, some have reconnected with their families, and all are exhibiting an enhanced ability to function independently in society (i.e. paying bills, signing up for welfare, and turning up for training courses, etc.). The participants' own comments give a clue as to why the intervention worked so well:

To read the entire essay click here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Concern for justice: central to faith

"Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed -- with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power -- with no one to comfort them."
Ecclesiastes 4:1

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

CitySquare clinic impact

Recently, I received a report on the impact of the work of our Community Health Services team on the health outcomes of our patients.  The analysis compared hospital utilization and costs of CitySquare patients to those of similarly uninsured patients from the Baylor University Medical Center (BUMC) service area.

Here’s what we found:

a. CitySquare patients were half as likely to be admitted to BUMC as their non-CitySquare counterparts.

b. When admitted, the average length of stay for our patients was 4.6 days, compared to 5.6 days for the non-CitySquare, uninsured patients.

c. When admitted, the average cost of an inpatient stay for a CitySquare patient was $6,500, compared to $9,100 for non-CitySquare, uninsured patients.

d. Unfortunately, this study revealed that CitySquare patients were just as likely to visit the ED as their non-CDM counterparts. Among other responses, this finding should motivate us to make medical contact information more readily available to our patients for those after hours times when care is needed. 

Clearly, the partnership we enjoy with the Baylor Health Care System and Health Texas Provider Network is paying off for and in our community.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Food for All: Community Hunger Day March 9, 2011

Food for All

At CitySquare, we believe in food for all. Not just food to fill the belly—food to nourish the body, which includes fresh produce and other foods rich in protein, vitamins and fiber. Proper nutrition is essential to good health, and good health is essential to being able to fully-engage in life. It is nearly impossible to hold down a steady job, perform well in school or be a patient, gracious member of a family without good health. The problems we see every day come from harsh realities: Texas has the 2nd highest rate of food insecurity and the highest rate of child hunger in the U.S.  Wwe must do better as a people and as a community!

CitySquare is waging war on hunger and malnutrition, and we invite you to join us in the fight. Below are four primary points of engagement for you:

Advocacy Opporunities around Food For All


Partner with CitySquare in our public policy efforts to make sure every man, woman and child has the food he or she needs to be healthy and strong.

March 9, 2011--Community Hunger Day:  Fast for a day in honor of the men, women and children in our community who do not have adequate food and donate the amount you would have spent to CitySquare or another local food pantry. Here's more information about this event.

March 10, 2011--FREE Screening of the film, “Food Stamped”: THE SCREENING IS SOLD OUT. Find out exactly how tough it is to adequately nourish your family on food stamps. Please visit foodstamped.com for more information about the documentary. Registration is now closed for the FREE private screening.

April 7, 2011--Urban Engagement Book Club featuring Generation Extra Large: Rescuing our Children from the Epidemic of Obesity by Lisa Tartamella at the Highland Park United Methodist Church. Register now!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

American wisdom from a "founder"

"Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!"

Alexander Hamilton
Federalist Papers, #36


Friday, March 04, 2011

Income gap. . .

A report from "The Lookout," a Yahoo news blog: a problem possibly more toublesome than the national debt. . .

Wed Feb 23, 5:13 pm ET

Separate but unequal: Charts show growing rich-poor gap
By Zachary Roth

The Great Recession and the slump that followed have triggered a jobs crisis that's been making headlines since before President Obama was in office, and that will likely be with us for years. But the American economy is also plagued by a less-noted, but just as serious, problem: Simply put, over the last 30 years, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm.

Gradual developments like this don't typically lend themselves to news coverage. But Mother Jones magazine has crunched the data on inequality, and put together a group of stunning new charts. Taken together, they offer a dramatic visual illustration of who's doing well and who's doing badly in modern America.

Here are three samples:

This chart shows that the poorest 90 percent of Americans make an average of $31,244 a year, while the top 1 percent make over $1.1 million:

According to this chart, most income groups have barely grown richer since 1979. But the top 1 percent has seen its income nearly quadruple:


And this chart suggests most Americans have little idea of just how unequal income distribution is. And that they'd like things to be divvied up a lot more equitably:

To see the rest of these fascinating charts, click on over to Mother Jones.

[Is it just me, or is this socially unsustainable?  LJ]

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Technology and a prayer breakfast!

So, while I am at the mic welcoming everyone to our annual urban ministries prayer breakfast at Dallas Market Center (cool venue!), my buddy, Jerermy Gregg, aka Captain, fires off a Tweet that sends the photo below to only the good Lord knows where! 

Technology!  Amazing!

Thanks for being there this morning, Captain!

Best,

Col K

Evangelical Christians and budget cuts

Interesting report from the Pew Research Center published in Christianity Today magazine.  What do you think?


Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World's Poor, Unemployed

Tobin Grant
posted 2/18/2011 02:08PM

A Pew Research Center survey suggests evangelicals prefer the government spend on schools, the military, and police.

The House of Representatives is working day and night in its effort to cut more than $60 billion from the federal budget. The House is considering a continuing resolution, a bill used to fund the federal government for the remainder of the year [passed earlier this week]. The bill includes deep cuts for environmental agencies, education, and foreign aid (except those related to security). It makes modest reductions for defense, homeland security, and police. These cuts are in line with the spending priorities of most American evangelicals.

Click here to read the entire report with helpful graphics.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Number 1 problem for public education and growing: poverty

[The following article by Katha Pollitt, "It Takes a Village, Not a Tiger," appeared in the February 28, 2011 edition of The Nation.]

Are you a tiger mother, a soccer mom, a helicopter parent, an attachment mom, a permissive free spirit who just wants your child to be herself?

Congratulations.

Your kids have a good chance of turning out reasonably well. Not because you are a parenting genius who has hit on the perfect method but because you have the time and energy and cultural capital to give your child what he needs to be successful in today’s world no matter what child-raising method you choose.

You are probably not, for example, poor, homeless, functionally illiterate, socially isolated, an addict, in prison, living in substandard housing, working three low-paid jobs—or unemployed for life.

You have books in your house, and probably a computer too.

You know enough to help your child with homework—and if not, you have the money or networks to find a tutor.

You feel comfortable volunteering at your child’s school, being in the PTA, calling the principal, going to parent-teacher conferences.

You can afford to take your child to the doctor and the dentist for regular care.

If your child should happen to get arrested, as quite a few do—if he’s caught with pot, say, or spray-paints graffiti, or jumps a turnstile—there’s a good chance that the charges can be made to go away, or at least not become part of his permanent record.

Your ex may have run off with your best friend, your apartment may be too small, you may hate your job—but you are still a white-collar, college-educated, middle-class person. And that makes all the difference for your children.

The biggest barrier to educational achievement today is not any of the things the media talk endlessly about: poorly prepared teachers, badly run schools, too many tests, low standards.

It’s child poverty—which, like poverty in general, has just dropped out of the discourse.

The Democrats don’t talk about it, except to wag the finger at deadbeat dads and teen moms, and the media don’t talk about it except in the context of crime or individual triumph. In fact, from the coverage you’d think our current crisis chiefly affected the middle classes—office managers, newly minted lawyers, college grads who have to move back in with their parents—when actually the unemployment rate for people with college degrees is 4.2 percent, which is where it was for all Americans before the recession.

By contrast, for those with only a high school diploma unemployment is 9.4 percent; for high school dropouts it’s 14.2 percent. And those figures measure only those actively looking for work, not the millions who’ve given up or have never held a job (some 16.5 percent of black men over 20). All those women pushed off welfare, called success stories because they got a job as a receptionist or a security guard or a clerk, with supposedly the hope of something better to come? Forget them.

Inconveniently, though, the poor and near poor, whom we don’t care about, come attached to children, for whom we supposedly have some concern. So how are the kids doing?

To read the entire essay click here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More than food pantries. . .

This column appeared in The Dallas Morning News yesterday.  David Beckmann, co-author, will deliver the keynote address at CitySquare's 16th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast this Thursday, March 3 beginning at 7 a.m. at Dallas Market Hall

Beckmann and James: We cannot ‘food bank’ our way out of hunger


Poverty and hunger are stark realities for many Texans. At 17 percent, the Texas poverty rate is the ninth-highest of the 50 states. The poverty rate among children is even higher, at 24 percent. Both Hispanics and African-Americans have poverty rates above the state average. Of the 15 U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates, six are in Texas.

Worse, Texas ranks second in households that struggle to put food on the table. There are strong links between hunger and poverty. The Texas food insecurity rates closely mirror the Texas poverty rates; 17 percent of Texans and 24 percent of Texan children live in households that can’t always afford groceries.

The poverty rate in Dallas is higher than the state average. Child poverty is significantly higher than the state average — 35.4 percent of children in Dallas are poor. The poverty rates of Hispanics and African-Americans in Dallas are also higher than the Texas average for each group — and almost double the overall poverty rate for the state.

Fortunately, we believe it is within our power to help ease the effects of the recession on people in need and to set the stage for rapid progress once our economy rebounds. Many of us help hungry people by contributing to food banks and charities. While this is important, all of the food collected by charities combined is only about 6 percent of what is provided by government nutrition programs.

We must continue to invest in U.S. safety-net programs, which cost just 14 cents of every federal dollar. Many families cannot afford cuts to free school breakfast and lunch, unemployment insurance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and tax credits for working poor families.

Cutting these anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs would be damaging to people in need and to our still-fragile economy. Without these public efforts, Texas will sink even further below the national averages for numbers of citizens and their children living in poverty. We cannot allow this to happen to our low-income neighbors.

Spending on programs such as SNAP provides an immediate stimulus to local economies. Studies show that low-income families spend their SNAP benefits immediately — spurring greater economic activity in their communities. Every dollar in SNAP benefits generates almost $1.75 in economic stimulus — so the 11 percent of all Texans who receive SNAP benefits are significantly boosting local communities.

Americans are not the only people suffering. The world has almost one billion chronically hungry people. U.S. foreign assistance can do a great deal to give hungry and poor people the tools and opportunities they need to improve the lives of their families.

We will speak on these issues at the annual CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries) Prayer Breakfast in Dallas Thursday. What can you do? Urge members of Congress to not balance the budget on the backs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad. Encourage them to press forward instead with reforms to make foreign assistance more effective in reducing poverty. With the stroke of a pen, decisions are made that can address the fundamental reasons people are hungry and poor — in Texas, in the United States, and around the world. We believe God is moving in our time to overcome hunger and poverty, and God is calling us to change the politics of hunger.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, Bread for the World Institute and the Alliance to End Hunger; his e-mail address is david@bread.org . Larry James is president and CEO of CitySquare; his e-mail address is ljames@citysq.org.