This winter, the Diocesan Public Policy Committee will lead parishioners on advocacy efforts to strengthen families, but committee members also will keep close watch on immigration reform and abortion legislation pending before state and federal lawmakers.
Public-policy efforts will include a petition drive Feb. 8 and 9, 2014, during the annual Public Policy Weekend, and a delegation of parishioners and advocates will travel to Albany March 19, 2014, for the annual Public Policy Day to speak with legislators.
In Albany, advocates will highlight three programs, Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation, the Nurse-Family Partnership and the Healthy Families program, which the committee has determined can help strengthen families.
The platform will advocate an additional $3 million in state funding to the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation, a nonprofit that gives grants to statewide charities that assist pregnant women, especially low-income and single women, so they can have healthy babies and raise their families with dignity.
"The Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation funding has been cut over the years," said Marvin Mich, a member of the Diocesan Public Policy Committee and the director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center.
Additionally the committee will advocate state funding for the Healthy Families program operated by Catholic Charities of Steuben County and several other agencies statewide. Healthy Families coordinators offer support and education to parents during home visits.
The Nurse-Family Partnership pairs low-income, first-time mothers with registered nurses early in the women’s pregnancies with ongoing in-home nurse visits continuing until children are age 2. The program, which originated in Elmira, now operates nationally and was brought to Monroe County in 2006 by the Children’s Agenda.
The nurses encourage women to adopt such preventive practices as prenatal care; good diets; and reduced use of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. These measures improve child health and development, and help parents set goals, continue their education and find work. The Nurse-Family Partnership is supported locally through state funding, the United Way of Greater Rochester and private donors.
In addition to the strengthening families platform, the committee has designated several "rapid response" issues: changes to the state’s abortion laws and the comprehensive reform of federal immigration policy. Both legislative concerns have been the subject of diocesanwide education and advocacy efforts in prior years, Mich noted, saying the committee hopes the "rapid response" approach will make it possible for parishioners to react quickly if legislation advances on these topics.
"People need to keep it in their awareness that action may be required," said Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator.
Mich said information is being drafted to send to pastors and pastoral leaders about the need for immigration reform, the reforms to U.S. immigration policy that have attracted the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the effect of current immigration policy on families and farms throughout the diocese.
With respect to the state’s abortion laws, diocesan parishioners organized several rallies this spring in opposition to proposed changes, which advocates said would make the laws less restrictive.
"There’s expectation that Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo will try to bring (the abortion legislation) back again," Mich said.
Mich said the DPPC also has engaged in policy efforts throughout the past year. For instance, in conjunction with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 4, the committee made available educational materials on climate change and environmental concerns.
He said ongoing education on environment issues is possible using resources from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, including a 90-minute faith-formation program and video, and the document "Melting Ice, Mending Creation: A Catholic Approach to Climate Change," which highlights the Pontifical Academy of Science’s statement, "Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene." The materials are available through the Public Policy section of the diocesan website, www.dor.org.