In October 2014 the Emerson membership passed a resolution establishing an Outreach Fund within the Endowment Fund. Decisions on recipients of Outreach dollars are made by the congregationally elected Outreach Committee of five Emerson members. One of the recipients, Texas Impact, expressed appreciation in a letter, below is an abridged version of that letter:
February 11, 2017
This report is to update you on Texas Impact’s health justice work in 2016, made possible in part through Emerson Unitarian Church’s generous support, as well as to update you on health policy developments at the state and federal levels and key opportunities for faith community leadership in 2017.
Thanks to the leadership of Emerson UU, Texas Impact had the resources to generate new and greater faith community leadership around health care in 2016. Emerson’s early commitment of significant funding leveraged support from other denominations and the Episcopal Health Foundation to support communications; development of faith-based resources; and the vital work of community organizing.
Unforeseen developments in the fall of 2016 significantly undermined the short-term policy gains health advocates achieved, but left intact and energized the grassroots foundation we were able to expand with Emerson UU’s help. While the immediate prospects for health policy nationally and at the state level are uncertain, Texas faith communities are engaged at some of the highest levels in the past 20 years. Their voices will be needed to push back against damaging federal proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a workable alternative and to block grant Medicaid. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, there will be new opportunities to advocate once more for expanded coverage and health care transformation.
Texas Impact’s first annual Health Justice Sabbath (HJS) created a focal point to reopen congregational discussions about health care. Congregations were very the ACA, many Texas congregations had turned their attention to other issues. Congregation members throughout Texas were less informed than we hoped about current state and federal health care issues, and most were completely ignorant of potential impacts on local property taxes caused by high rates of uninsurance.
More than 1,000 congregations were sent information about HJS, which included information about Emerson UU’s foundational role in spearheading the event. Texas Impact promoted Health Justice Sabbath (HJS) through denominational communication channels; our extensive email lists; our partner organizations including the Texas Hospital Association, the Episcopal Health Foundation, and the Cover Texas Now coalition; and targeted mailings to congregations. About 100 congregations participated in HJS events ranging from Sunday school classes to blood drives and health fairs. Emerson member Gabe Gelb generously provided special funding for media assistance, and HJS received TV and print attention across the state. HJS occurred in the context of a rapidly changing health policy environment. The summer and fall of 2016 were a transitional time in health policy at the state and national levels. The Obama Administration drew a “line in the sand” with Texas, refusing to renew certain kinds of federal hospital funding unless the state took steps to insure more people. While it was understood that a Trump Administration might not maintain this position, that possibility appeared remote.
After years of working for Medicaid expansion, health advocates in the fall of 2016 suddenly faced the possibility of success. Advocates, including local grassroots groups, who were used to playing the role of the “loyal opposition,” found themselves at the center of a large-scale legislative push for coverage expansion. The professional lobby came to the realization that churches and other community organizations would be important partners in influencing legislators, and advocates began working strategically to organize constituents in a number of potentially key legislative districts.
The changing policy environment impacted Texas Impact’s health justice activities and sources of funding. We received funding from organizations we had not expected to, and we did not receive funding from organizations we had expected to. We produced policy research we had not anticipated. You can find our report Rocks in the Water: The Unseen Cost of Losing Federal Support for Uncompensated Care at (https://texasimpact.org/Uncompensated-Care),
But just as suddenly as it appeared that Texas’ health care fortunes might be improving, Donald Trump’s surprise election knocked the foundation out from under legislative efforts and set off alarms that the situation actually was likely to get worse. Rather than looking to the possibility of expanding Medicaid, Texas health advocates suddenly faced the possibility of federal Medicaid block grants and rolling back of state benefits. Instead of enjoying federal support for policy progress in Texas, advocates are now fighting on two fronts—protecting existing coverage at the federal level, and pushing back against nearly $2B in proposed cuts at the state level.
It’s clear that Emerson UU’s support in 2016 was key to preparing Texas faith communities to engage in this year’s policy struggles—and your support in 2017 is vital to building on the work we were able to accomplish last year. In this time of confusion and conflict, it is crucial that faith communities stay informed and engaged, and that advocates provide ongoing opportunities for constituent engagement with lawmakers at the state and federal levels. Once federal policy proposals come to light, it will be imperative that constituents react quickly, which they only will do if they are already “plugged in.” Furthermore, if the federal government takes steps to block grant Medicaid, state lawmakers could meet in special session with very little notice to make changes that would imperil coverage for millions of low-income Texans.
Emerson’s leadership in advancing Texas Impact’s work with congregations turned out to be all the more important in light of unfortunate developments that followed the November election. The day after Donald Trump’s election, a group of state and national health funders rescinded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants they had made to Texas Impact and our coalition partners to work on health advocacy in the 2017 legislative session. While the funders were understandably caught off-guard and expressed a need to rethink their strategies, their withdrawal of significant committed funds created challenges for advocates in the key weeks following the election and leading up to the 2017 legislative session. Texas health advocacy organizations lost a number of staff positions, with 4 of these coming from Texas Impact.
Despite the setbacks we faced at the end of 2016, 2017 so far is a banner year for congregational engagement in social justice—building on relationships HJS helped catalyze, Texas Impact is developing a wide base of faith based policy engagement on health care and other justice issues. In particular, many HJS participants have emerged as devoted participants in our Weekly Witness and Rapid Response programs, and one pastor who learned of Texas Impact through HJS promotional information has recently joined our board of directors.
We intend to hold the second annual HJS in the fall of 2017. We will announce the date before the end of February, based on conversations with faith colleagues from other states that will be taking place the week of Feb. 13.
In the meantime, we are working in the legislative session to mobilize faith community support for health justice. We are supporting bills that would improve access to health care; protect insurance consumers; safeguard public health; and many other urgent health needs. We are co-sponsoring Health Advocacy Day at the Capitol on March 6, which we hope Emerson UU members will attend. Through our UU Texas Impact board member, Rev. Chuck Freeman, we are resourcing advocacy efforts of UU members throughout the state. We also are working with Texas Impact organizational members in the Houston area including Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston; New Covenant Presbytery; the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church; the TX-LA Gulf Coast Lutheran Synod; and others.
We are deeply grateful to Emerson UU for your visionary support for Texas Impact’s health justice work. We look forward to continued partnership!
Texas Impact Executive Director