sotuBY KIM MILLERJanuary 29, 2014

Last night President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union (see transcript/video) to an audience filled with Members of Congress, distinguished guests (including Brophy College Preparatory alum and one of the core Fast for Family fasters, Christian Avila), and the American public. His speech ranged from voting rights, to education, to foreign diplomacy. Since next week marks the beginning of Ignatian Family Advocacy Month (IFAM), I found myself paying special attention to the President’s mention of our IFAM priority issues: immigration, minimum wage, and access to food (SNAP).

While SNAP received no specific mention, there was some major movement on the Farm Bill today (see below). Immigration reform and raising the minimum wage were both included, as President Obama challenged Congress to “get it done” and “give ’em a raise.”

Here’s what the President had to say:

ON IMMIGRATION:

“Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year. (Cheers, applause.) Let’s get it done. It’s time.”

ON THE MINIMUM WAGE:

“In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.

Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. (Laughter.) Only now he makes more of it. (Laughter.) John just gave his employees a raise to 10 bucks an hour, and that’s a decision that has eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.

Tonight I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead. Do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. (Applause.) It’s good for the economy; it’s good for America. (Sustained applause.)

To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook — (cheers, applause) — our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty. (Sustained applause.)

Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board.

Today the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. And Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. It’s easy to remember: 10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise. (Cheers, applause.) Give ’em a raise.”

ON SNAP:

While the President made no direct mentions of SNAP and/or the Farm Bill last night, the House passed the Farm Bill today by a vote of 251 to 166. The Senate is expected to take up the bill later this week. While the bill contains some positive aspects, anti-hunger and poverty groups find the $8.6 billion cut to the SNAP program deeply troubling. According to the Food Research Action Center, the bill will cut “SNAP benefits to an estimated 850,000 households by an average of $90/month.”  Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, asserted, “While there are some positive aspects [of the Farm Bill], such as food-aid reform provisions, we are disappointed with the $8.6 billion cut to SNAP. Any cut to SNAP is harmful to America’s struggling families, especially at this time when hunger in the U.S.A. is at an all-time high.”

I hope that you will join Ignatian Solidarity Network and members of the Ignatian Family in following up on the President’s words and Congress’ actions by engaging in Ignatian Family Advocacy Month starting next week! Whether you’re currently or formerly tied to a Jesuit institution or the broader Catholic family, there are tons of ways to engage. Learn more by visiting the IFAM page or contacting me at kmiller@ignatiansolidarity.net.

Kim Miller

Kim Miller is the Program Director for Ignatian Solidarity Network.

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