economic justice

Wisdom from St. John Chrysostom

Action Alert – No on SB 2279 and HB 1308

Why Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is a Bad Idea
SB 2279 and HB 1308 would subject poor families to drug testing and treatment as a condition for receiving economic assistance. Though well-intentioned, would be counter-productive to helping poor families and fails the basic test of a Christian society.
(1) Asking why a person is poor has its value, but not for the purpose of determining whether the person deserves help.  The person deserves help because he or she needs help.
(2) SB 2279 makes our social assistance system do the job of law enforcement.
(3) States that tried drug testing found very few drug users, but testing costs a lot to administer. The money wasted is money that could be spent on treatment.
(4) The research tells us that we cannot treat substance abuse problems unless we first take care of the family’s basic needs.
(5) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is not a cash hand-out program.  It is a comprehensive program that requires work participation.  If those jobs require drug testing for safety reasons, the participants will be tested.
(6) The state does not currently have enough drug treatment programs. Poor persons should not be hurt further because, of no fault of their own, they can’t get into a program.

Contact Your Senators and Representatives Now!
There are TWO bills in separate chambers.  Please send separate action alerts for each.
Contact your Senators NOW and ask them to VOTE NO on SB 2279.
Message: Please vote no on SB 2279. Poor families need help, not punishment.
SB 2279 could be voted on as early as Thursday, January 26.
Contact your Representatives soon and ask them to VOTE NO on HB 1308.
Message: Please vote no on HB 1308. Poor families need help, not punishment.

Column: Looming Issues for Next Session

1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe next legislative session is, depending on how you look at it, “only” or “still” five months away.  Either way, the session is approaching and now is a good time to recognize some looming issues for the next session.

The Budget 

The state budget is already the dominant issue.  The legislature just had a special session to address declining revenues, but the real work remains for the regular session.

On the one hand, North Dakota is, by some standards, doing well financially.  Unemployment is low and the state is funding some very real needs in infrastructure and education — though still not parental choice.  On the other hand, oil revenues are very low and agriculture commodity prices are taking a hit.  This means that the state is not expected to bring in as much revenue as previous years, which leads to new and difficult challenges with spending and collecting revenue.

Expect heated debates about the budget to dominate the session from Day 1 to sine die.

Human Service Needs

In February Governor ordered a set of across the board cuts for all state agencies.  These cuts hit the provision of human services especially hard.  For one thing, despite the fact that Department of Human Services targeted “new” programs for elimination, the fact remains that these were still needed programs and they were identified as such by the legislature.  Secondly, the truly needy are most impacted and are in less of a position than most of us to adjust the reduction or elimination of services.  Thirdly, some of those reductions, especially in the area of long-term care, resulted in additional losses in federal matching funds.

The Department of Human Services was spared in the second round of reductions that occurred in August, but it will likely have to present a reduced budget for the next biennium.  Just as the Year of Mercy closes, concerned citizens will have to work to make sure that our most vulnerable citizens are not left behind.

Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse

Just about every observer agrees that the state is in a crisis when it comes to behavioral health and substance abuse.  The situation was already bad before the opioid and fentanyl epidemic hit the state.  Nevertheless, while most would agree that something needs to be done, not everyone agrees on what should be done or whether there is enough funding and will to get it done.

The Department of Human Services is already in the process of reforming its delivery system through the Human Service Centers and the State Hospital.  In the meantime, an interim legislative committee has studied the matter and is preparing draft legislation for the next session.   Some of the proposals will require state funding.  There will exist tremendous pressure to not devote new funding to mental health and substance abuse services in light of the state’s budget problems.  Not acting, however, could put even more of our neighbors at risk and cost us more money in the long run through incarceration.

Incarceration Reform

Addressing our incarceration numbers is linked to addressing our behavioral health needs.  North Dakota locks up too many of its non-violent citizens for low-level drug-related crimes.  The situation is financially unsustainable and short-sighted as a policy matter.  Recommendations to lower penalties for non-violent offenses and offer alternatives to incarceration have met with some resistance.  Meanwhile, it is certain that any serious effort to address our skyrocketing incarceration rates must work in tandem with efforts to provide better and more extensive mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Medicaid Expansion

Over 19,000 North Dakotans have medical coverage as a result of Medicaid expansion passed by the legislature in 2013. Passage of the legislation, which the North Dakota Catholic Conference and the state’s Catholic health care facilities supported, was difficult.  To appease some concerns, the legislation was given a “sunset” of July 31, 2017.  This means that the legislature must renew the program during the next legislative session or thousands of North Dakotans will lose or lack health care coverage they otherwise would have.  The families impacted usually earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but don’t earn enough to receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

There is a peek at some of the issues facing the next Legislative Assembly, and space does not allow me to write about the refugee program, revision of the state’s marriage laws, and protecting legislation to help the unborn and their mothers.  Stay tuned to the conference’s Facebook page and be sure to ask your candidates about these issues.

New Column: The Co-Op Pope

Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by cooperatives, on condition that it is a real cooperative where capital does not have command over men but men over capital. - Pope Francis

Question: What do Pope Francis and North Dakotans have in common? Answer: A fondness for cooperatives.

North Dakotans are familiar with cooperatives. The Quentin Burdick Center for Cooperatives at North Dakota State University estimates that there exist over 500 cooperatives in the state. We have cooperatives involving agriculture, telecommunications, financing, insurance, electricity, and more. The state has often been called the nation’s leader in the cooperative movement.

Like many legal and economic developments, cooperatives often sprung from necessity. Farmers, for example, sometimes had to join forces to reduce purchasing costs. At other times, producers needed to work together to have sufficient bargaining power when dealing with monopolies like the railroads. Cooperatives have also allowed members to access needed resources for investment.

Cooperatives offer local control, direct ownership, and equitable distribution of the fruits of labor. Interestingly, support for these principles, and cooperatives themselves, are found in Catholic teaching.

Although often mislabeled as a document on climate change, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si is really an exploration of what the Christian faith means for the economy. It is worth noting that cooperatives are praised twice in the document, once in relation to agricultural cooperatives and again concerning energy cooperatives — two segments of the cooperative model with which North Dakotans are familiar.

Pope Francis has repeatedly hailed cooperatives. Speaking to an audience in Rome, the pope said: “Cooperatives should continue to be the motor that raises and develops the weakest part of our communities and civil society.” In Bolivia he spoke of how he has seen how cooperatives “were able to create work where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy.” He has often spoke about how he developed an enthusiasm for cooperatives when, as a teenager, he heard his father talk about “Christian cooperativism.” Indeed, Paul Hazen of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council, has dubbed Francis, the “co-op pope.”

Pope Francis, however, is not unique when it comes to expressing the Catholic preference for cooperative models of ownership and production. Catholic monasteries have operated as cooperatives for centuries. Cooperatives got a significant boost in popularity after Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum in 1891. It was the first “social encyclical” and rejected by unbridled capitalism and state socialism. Cooperatives provided an alternative. As Pope Francis puts it: cooperatives “are the concrete expression of the solidarity and subsidiarity that the social doctrine of the Church has always promoted between the person and the state.” Nearly ever pope since then, especially the last five, has promoted cooperatives as an alternative to systems where all the economic power is held by those who own the capital, rather than the workers, producers, or consumers.

Catholics have been putting the cooperative alternative into practice.The first credit union in the United States was founded by New Hampshire French-speaking Catholics in 1908. The world’s largest network of worker-owned cooperatives was started by a Catholic priest in Spain. Dorothy Day, one of the four “great Americans” mentioned by Pope Francis in his address to Congress, promoted and founded cooperatives in the United States as an alternative to communism and a form of uncaring, detached capitalism. Even today, Catholic bishops, aid organizations, and lay groups promote and create cooperatives around the world.

Several themes run throughout Scripture and the church’s social doctrine that make cooperative models and worker ownership appealing. As already noted, they can be an alternative between collectivism and individualism run amuck. They also represent ways to respect both solidarity and subsidiarity, stewardship of the land, the dignity of labor and workers, respect for private property and the universal destination of goods, and the ecological integrity Pope Francis discusses in Laudato si.

Cooperatives may not work in every situation. Pope Francis warns that cooperatives, like other types of ownership can succumb to the temptation to put profit before people and thus become “false cooperatives.” Nevertheless, our experience with cooperatives might place North Dakotans in a better position to help create what Pope Francis calls a “healing” “economy of honesty.”

Labor Day Statement Focuses on Importance of Work in Building and Supporting Families

57Creating sufficient, decent work that honors the dignity of families is a necessary component of the challenge facing all Catholics, and it is the Catholic way, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami cited the importance of work in supporting families in the 2015 Labor Day statement, which drew on Pope Francis’ June encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’.

“We must not resign ourselves to a ‘new normal’ with an economy that does not provide stable work at a living wage for too many men and women,” Archbishop Wenski said. “We are in need of a profound conversion of heart at all levels of our lives.” Archbishop Wenski challenged Catholics to “recommit ourselves to our brothers and sisters around the world in the human family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes and neighborhoods.”

Archbishop Wenski noted that even though work is meant for the sake of family, “Wage stagnation has increased pressures on families, as the costs of food, housing, transportation, and education continue to pile up.” He added that “the violation of human dignity is evident in exploited workers, trafficked women and children, and a broken immigration system that fails people and families desperate for decent work and a better life.”

Archbishop Wenski said that, in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis challenges people to see the connections between human labor, care for creation, and honoring the dignity of the “universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.”

The full text of the 2015 Labor Day statement is available online.



Natural and Human Ecology:
a discussion on Laudato Si’

The encyclical Laudato Si’, released earlier this summer, continues to be a hot topic of discussion for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Join the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, along with many others, on September 9 to delve into some of the encyclical’s themes and to consider ways in which Minnesota Catholics can put them into practice within our families, parishes, and broader communities.

An engaging line-up of discussion panelists will join us, including:

  • Cecelia Calvo, Project Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Program, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Fred Callens, owner of Callens Honey Farm, St. Leo, Minn.
  • Dr. Daniel Finn, Clemmens Professor in Economics & Liberal Arts and professor of theology, St. John’s University
  • Dr. Christopher Thompson, Academic Dean, The St. Paul Seminary

The event is free and open to the public.

The event is co-sponsored by Minnesota Catholic ConferenceCatholic Rural Life, and the University of St. Thomas Center for Catholic Studies.

Archbishop Wenski, Bishop Cantu Urge Congress To Protect Programs That Help the Poor and Vulnerable

The U.S. bishops stand ready to work with Congress “to protect poor and vulnerable people, promote human life and dignity, and advance the common good,” said the bishops who chair two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a November 17 letter to Congress. Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, urged Congressional leaders to draw a “circle of protection” around programs serving the poor and vulnerable as they weigh spending and tax legislation.
“As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. These voices are too often missing from public policy debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources,” wrote Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú.
Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú chair the USCCB committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, respectively.
They highlighted nutrition for women, infants and children; affordable housing; community health centers; and mental health services and workforce development as programs that should not be cut. They also expressed support for extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.
Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú also noted the importance of poverty-focused international assistance, humanitarian and disaster assistance, long-term development programs and international food and agriculture programs.

Ontario Catholic Bishops offer new reflection on agriculture

From Catholic Rural Life:57
In 1989 the Social Affairs Commission of the Ontario Catholic Bishops issued a document about the agricultural community entitled “The People and the Land”. Now, twenty five years later, they take a renewed look at farming issues in their reflection Fruit of the Earth and Work of Human Hands.

The bishops explain that by offering this new reflection, “we can learn and better understand what our Creator has blessed us with, and carefully consider the questions and challenges that Catholic social teaching has to offer concerning Ontario’s farming community.”

For those interested in what Catholic social doctrine offers on questions of agriculture, creation, and the economy, the document is worth a look, especially for how views on the issues are similar and different between Canada and the United States.


USCCB: Support the Long-term Unemployed as They Search for Decent Work!

Over one million jobless Americans lost a vital source of support at the end of 2013 when Congress failed to extend the Emergency Unemployment program.

Unless Congress extends emergency unemployment, millions more will lose this financial lifeline over the course of the year. Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to protect extend this vital assistance.

Blessed John Paul II, in Laborem Exercens, called unemployment an evil and said during times of economic pain and high unemployment, there is a moral obligation to ensure unemployed workers and their families have a basic level of security.

Last month Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commended Congress for reaching a bipartisan agreement to relieve a certain amount of the sequestration budget cuts. He expressed disappointment that emergency unemployment was not included in the final agreement, adding, “The recent welcome decline in unemployment levels hides the reality that millions of long-term unemployed workers continue to suffer from an economy that does not produce enough decent work. For most of these families, jobless benefits are the only source of support.” ( )

Call your Senators and Representative to protect long-term unemployed workers and theifamilies by funding Emergency Unemployment Compensation!

Bishop Pates Welcomes Pope Francis’ First World Day of Peace Message

Pope highlights fraternity as ‘foundation and pathway’ to peace Cites excessive inequality, ‘globalization of indifference’ as threats to peace Urges all people to engage in dialogue, regard one another as brothers and sisters

Pope Francis’ first message for World Day of Peace offers a profound challenge to all people to see each other’s humanity and pursue dialogue and peace over war and conflict, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, welcomed the release of “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” December 12.

“Pope Francis offers a message both simple and profound: when we fail to recognize other people as our brothers and sisters, we destroy each other and ourselves,” Bishop Pates said. “This challenges everyone from governments and corporations to individuals and families in the course of our daily lives.”

“In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father,” Pope Francis wrote, “there are no ‘disposable lives.’” The pope drew on the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis to illustrate that “we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling.”

The pope listed war, globalization, threats to religious freedom, human trafficking, economic disparity and abuses of the financial system as examples of fraternity breaking down and leading to violence against people

“In disagreements, which are an unavoidable part of life, we should always remember that we are brothers and sisters, and therefore teach others and teach ourselves not to consider our neighbor as an enemy or as an adversary to be eliminated,” the pope wrote. “Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”

The Vatican has posted the message, dated January 1, 2014, the celebration of World Day of Peace, online: