How often does a petition get honored before it’s even signed? Such was the rare and pleasant occurrence for social-justice representatives regarding a plea that was to have circulated at parishes during the upcoming diocesan Public Policy Weekend.
The petition, in its original form, beseeched Congress and the new President Barack Obama to approve a broadening of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This federal-state venture extends health coverage to children whose family income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to afford health insurance. The expansion would cover approximately 4 million of the estimated 9 million children in the United States who lack health insurance.
But the SCHIP bill passed Jan. 14 in the House of Representatives, 289-138, and the Senate followed suit Jan. 29 by voting 66-32 in favor of a $30-billion-plus expansion of SCHIP. Since Obama has said he backs the legislation, it appeared a formality that it would soon become law. So, the diocesan Public Policy Committee revised its petition for Public Policy Weekend Feb. 7-8, thanking Congress for supporting the proposed legislation and adding:
“As the discussion of health care continues, we request that the following core values be the foundation of the new legislation and policies: respect for the dignity of each person, special care for the poor and vulnerable, consideration of the common good, justice, and prudent stewardship of resources. Health care begins with good prenatal care for mothers and children and we urge that preventive, acute, long-term, and palliative care services be made available to all people.”
Public Policy Weekend annually involves parish social-justice groups obtaining signatures after Masses, backing a single advocacy issue as determined by the Public Policy Committee. That coalition also selects two educational issues, which for 2008-09 are support for ethical stem-cell research and the transition of prisoners back into home and community.
The Public Policy Committee’s focus on SCHIP as the advocacy issue is based on Catholic teaching that calls us to be concerned for the welfare of all, particularly those who cannot speak for themselves in securing adequate and affordable health care.
“When we study the social teachings of the Catholic Church, we are taught that it is our responsibility to respond to the needs of others with both charity and advocacy. This signature collection is ‘advocacy’ — standing up for the rights of the poor and vulnerable,” said Anne Casey, who represents Greece’s Holy Name of Jesus Parish on the Public Policy Committee.
“Too many American children are uninsured and in this economic crisis that we’re facing, the need is more critical than ever,” added Jim Dollard, the committee’s representative from St. Columba/St. Patrick Parish in Caledonia.
“Health care is always an important issue, but with rising unemployment during this recession there will be even more people out of work and/or without health insurance,” agreed Father Jeff Tunnicliff, parochial vicar of St. Mary Southside Parish in Elmira.
Father Tunnicliff is a scheduled speaker for a special Public Policy Weekend program, “Access to Health Care,” being hosted by Catholic Charities of Chemung County and other Southern Tier parish social-ministry committees. Sessions will take place at 2 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Catholic Charities office in Elmira and at 12:15 p.m. on Feb. 8 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Newark Valley. Presentations are free and open to public.
Father Tunnicliff further stated that church teachings regard access to health care as a fundamental right of all, and a key to every person’s dignity.
“Good health care is for the betterment of the individual and society. A sick person cannot fully contribute to society,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For further details on the 2008-09 Public Policy Committee priorities, visit the diocesan Web site at www.dor.org. Click the link for Catholic Charities, then click on the link for public policy on the left-hand side of the Catholic Charities page.