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United Methodists share concerns with lawmakers


Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, speaks to members of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society during their March 18-22 meeting in Washington. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
March 23, 2009 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

Faith communities must mobilize now if they want affordable, high-quality health care to be available to everyone, an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy told a group of United Methodists.


Lauren Gilchrist, an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), says faith groups must mobilize now if they want affordable health care to be available to everyone.
  

“You have the close, intimate relationships; remind us of the faces of the patients,” said Lauren Gilchrist in a March 20 meeting at the senator’s offices. “Stories are imperative. That is what drives Senator Kennedy.”

Gilchrist, a staff member on health care policy, met with members of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society concerned about the issue. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health Committee, has said, “In the most prosperous nation in the world, no citizen should have to decide between a doctor visit and paying their rent or buying food.”

The first full afternoon of the agency’s spring board meeting, March 18-22, was dedicated to congressional visits followed by a reception for legislators and their staff in the Capitol. Board members were encouraged to make appointments ahead of time to visit their congressional leaders.

Before leaving for the visits, board members divided into work areas and met with staff of the denomination’s social action agency, who armed them with information on the church’s stands on health care, environmental and economic justice, budget priorities and poverty reduction as a primary goal of U.S. foreign aid reform.

Personal stories

The Rev. Cynthia Abrams, staff member responsible for heath care issues, told her group the importance of personal stories to demonstrate gaps in the system. She also urged the board members to “strip out political rhetoric” and focus on spiritual grounding.

The 2008 United Methodist Book of Discipline states, “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.” She cited Paragraph 162V in the denomination’s Social Principles: “Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities.”

Before meeting with Kennedy’s staff, Abrams brought her group to meet with Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality health care for all Americans.

Pollack shared findings in a March 2009 research report conducted by the organization, which found one in three Americans are uninsured. “That is 86.7 million people who were uninsured for some period of time during 2007 and 2008,” he said.

Four out of five individuals who went without health insurance were from working families, and 4.6 percent were looking for work. Pollack said it is not enough to be poor; people have to fit into “deserving” categories to be insured by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“In 43 states, you can literally be penniless and not fit into a deserving category. The community of faith must play a role in this process,” he said.

Prophetic voices

Board member Kurt Karandy, 19, a student from Liverpool, N.Y., attending American University, said he met with an aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). He wanted to talk with her about international violence against women, child marriage, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and immigration reform.


Bishop Robert Hoshibata and
fellow board members listen
to Gilchrist’s presentation.
   

Kara Crawford, 19, a sophomore at DePaul University from Tuscola, Ill., visited Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill). The appointment with Johnson was the first time she had visited her representative’s office on her own. She went with another board member and Mark Harrison, the agency’s director of peace with justice, to Durbin’s office.

“I found them to be very receptive, and Durbin’s aide told us the senator has a strong heart for people in poverty,” she said.

Crawford, who has been on the board of directors since she was 14, said experiences like visiting congressional offices have had a direct and profound influence on her life. “It has made me more politically aware especially about international issues.

“I support the work of this board with my whole heart,” she said. “The staff is amazing and they work so hard. I am inspired by them.”

Karandy said United Methodists have historically had a prophetic voice to share with people in power.

“The Board of Church and Society is one of the things that makes me proud to be a United Methodist.”

* Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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