A new election-year partnership between the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) and Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) will help define and give voice to the stories that shape UCC efforts for a just and compassionate world.
“Our CHHSM agencies and organizations, and the communities they serve, are the first to experience the real-time impact of public policy decisions, including policy on health care access, affordable housing, food insecurity, children and family services, senior services, and programs for people living with disabilities,” says Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC’s Washington, D.C., office. “As a long-time, faith-based public policy advocate, I know that impact stories are some of the most powerful tools we have as advocates for a more just and compassionate world. So the idea of a partnership between our UCC justice advocacy ministries and our CHHSM ministries felt like a natural fit.”
The “Be A Voice 2020” election engagement campaign will feature a Health and Human Services Toolkit, to be released in conjunction with the UCC’s Health and Human Service Sunday, Jan. 26. The toolkit contains resources, stories, and action items that CHHSM members and local churches can use in helping everyone’s voice to be heard on a variety of healthcare issues. It will be the first feature on the new advocacy section of the CHHSM website, and will be accessible from the website’s main menu beginning Jan. 26. The toolkit also will be featured on JWM’s “Our Faith, Our Vote” and advocacy web pages.
Sorensen says the idea for a CHHSM/JWM partnership clicked for her during the debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2017. “I was struck by the power of those most impacted by this policy debate — parents of children with serious chronic illnesses, people living with disabilities fighting to preserve independent living resources and Medicaid coverage, people living with pre-existing medical decisions,” she says. “These are the voices that really tipped the balance of the debate in favor of preserving access through the ACA.”
In addition to the toolkit, CHHSM and JWM will focus advocacy and awareness efforts on one major health and human service-related issue each month during the nine months leading up to the 2020 elections. Topics will include homelessness; older adult services; children, youth and families; hunger; reproductive justice; developmental disabilities; affordable housing; healthcare access; and mental health and substance use issues.
“The focus will be on policy actions that impact funding for health and human services,” says the Rev. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “Drawing attention to how federal money is allocated will provide us with a practical way to advocate for these issues, and define what questions we would want possible political candidates to answer.”
Sorensen says she sees the partnership as key to highlighting advocacy issues in a year that includes both a pivotal presidential election and the 2020 Census. “It is more critical than ever that the voices of those most impacted by health and human service policies are moved to the forefront of the 2020 election campaigns on all levels — local, state and federal,” she says. “We need to build a network of advocates who will hold candidates and decision makers accountable for strengthening the common good.”
“Be A Voice 2020” will include links to resources from both the JWM and CHHSM websites and social media, as well as social media campaigns geared toward creating awareness and compelling UCC members to action. But the advocacy won’t end with the U.S. elections. Weekly and monthly issue-focused advocacy will be part of the entire year, as the campaign lifts up such events as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, National Rural Health Day (Nov. 22), and World AIDS Day Dec. 1, among others.
Berry says she is hopeful the new partnership “will strengthen the UCC voice in advocating for social justice issues in health and human services, and will invite more people to join in that effort. Relationship is at the heart of the UCC and how we do things, so this collaboration allows us to live into our values in a deeper way.”
Sorensen concurs. “The partnership we are building between CHHSM organizations and our UCC justice advocacy ministries through efforts like ‘Be A Voice 2020’ will help build and expand our faith-based advocacy voice,” she says. “Having the stories of those most impacted at the heart of our advocacy work is essential — and it is the source of our strength.”