Friday, October 16, 2009

Release: Interfaith Leaders urge President Obama: Make Poverty, Climate and Coastal Restoration Priorities in Gulf Coast Communities


SOURCE: Gulf Coast Civic Works Campaign
CONTACT: Mary Fontenot - ACT (504) 495-5338
David Gauthe - BISCO (985) 438-2148

Over 50 Christian, Jewish, Muslim Leaders Urge President Obama:
Make Poverty and Environment Priorities with Civic Works Jobs for Gulf Coast Communities

New Orleans, LA, October 15, 2009 –
As President Barack Obama arrives in New Orleans for this first visit since his historic election, over 50 leading religious officials and faith-based organizations are urging the President for robust long-term hurricane recovery policy to tackle poverty, coastal erosion and climate change. The signers include Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches; Sayyid M. Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Bishop Charles E. Blake, Church of God in Christ; Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, The Episcopal Church; Dr. Joel C. Hunter; Nancy Ratzan, National Council of Jewish Women; Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners; and Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, Christian Church.

The letter explains, “Four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck and the levees were breached, the slow pace of recovery, persistent poverty, climate change and coastal land loss have created a moral crisis across the region that demands a powerful response from people of faith and our elected officials.” Organized by Louisiana-based interfaith groups All Congregations Together (ACT) and Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), the letter urges President Obama to look to a bipartisan bill, HR 2269, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, as a model for resident-led recovery policy to “ensure just and sustainable recovery for all Gulf Coast communities”. HR 2269 would create 100,000 green jobs for hurricane survivors rebuilding affordable housing and infrastructure, restoring wetlands and promoting energy efficiency and climate change resiliency.

The letter was written in coordination with “Fighting Poverty with Faith” (, an interfaith week of action October 14th-21st, 2009 focused on urging elected officials to make poverty-reduction a key goal in the nation’s transition to a new green economy.

ACT and BISCO are co-founders of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Campaign (, a nonpartisan partnership of community, faith, environmental, student, and human rights organizations in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi and their national allies advocating for federal legislation based on HR 2269 the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We applaud your decision to travel to New Orleans to witness the state of recovery of the Gulf Coast. We also welcome the emphasis of this Administration on solving the bureaucratic struggles which hamper hurricane recovery funding from reaching the ground. Still, we are hopeful that after hearing from local leaders and hurricane survivors during your trip, you can return to Washington with a renewed understanding of the significant gaps that remain towards fulfilling the federal government’s promises of rebuilding stronger, safer and more equitable Gulf Coast communities. Four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck and the levees were breached, the slow pace of recovery, persistent poverty, climate change and coastal land loss have created a moral crisis across the region that demands a powerful response from people of faith and our elected officials.

Our national response to these natural and man-made disasters has yet to protect the well-being of the Gulf Coast’s most vulnerable people and places through long-term recovery policies which restore the environment, rebuild lives and respect human rights.

As communities of faith, we are grounded in a shared tradition of justice and compassion and we are called upon to hold ourselves and our nation accountable to the moral standard of this tradition. As we look across America’s Gulf Coast, we see:

Ø Thousands living in toxic FEMA trailers as they struggle to rebuild their homes;
Ø Tens of thousands of displaced survivors unable to return home with dignity and safety;
Ø Homelessness and rental housing costs rising while affordable housing projects grind to a halt with the crash of financial markets;
Ø Insufficient access to health care facilities, particularly in the areas of mental health where needs for these facilities and services have grown substantially for survivors; and
Ø Many more unable to access proper training and living wage work to pay for life’s necessities and find pathways out of poverty.

At the same time, Gulf Coast communities see deadlier storms, rising sea levels from climate change, and a majority of our nation’s coastal erosion occurring each year along the Gulf of Mexico, further threatening the future of our communities.

This means that four years after our nation’s largest disaster the survivors of these storms remain vulnerable; leaving a spiritual wound open across the region, one felt in God’s creation and every community across this country. We must act now to target the challenges facing our most vulnerable communities; rebuilding more resilient and equitable neighborhoods, restoring God’s creation and empowering our brothers and sisters to overcome the devastation and lift themselves from poverty.

While you visit New Orleans, faith communities across the country are engaging in an interfaith week of action “Fighting Poverty with Faith,” October 14th-21st, 2009, in order to urge our elected officials to make poverty-reduction a key goal of the transition to a new green economy. Surely, no part of the country presents a greater need and opportunity for environmental restoration and economic revitalization than America’s Gulf Coast.

Members of diverse faith communions have already responded generously to these disasters, volunteering thousands of hours to rebuild lives across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and giving millions in charitable donations. Faith groups have formed powerful new partnerships with local community leaders, non-profits and other denominations, to lead some of the most successful efforts in the recovery.

We have learned that acts of faith and mercy alone, no matter how profound, cannot provide everything needed for a just recovery. Gulf Coast families deserve a federal government that recognizes their human rights and needs by partnering with them to rebuild and sustain their communities.

Billions in Congressionally appropriated funds remain un-obligated or unspent and could potentially be used to address unmet recovery needs in a pilot project for promoting innovative partnerships with local governments, faith-based and community organizations. A framework for accomplishing these goals already exists and continues to be embraced by a growing bi-partisan coalition of grassroots and elected leaders across the Gulf Coast. We urge your Administration and leaders in both parties of Congress to support policy based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269) to:

Ø Provide targeted training and hiring of residents and hurricane survivors for jobs;
Ø Rebuild affordable housing and vital community infrastructure;
Ø Restore natural flood protection, including barrier islands and wetlands;
Ø Promote energy efficiency and resiliency to future disasters and climate change;
Ø Make contracting and subcontracting opportunities accessible to local businesses; and
Ø Work with community and faith-based non-profits and local governments to plan and implement recovery projects to target the needs and ensure the rights of vulnerable populations, especially women, residents with disabilities, low income, minority, and immigrant communities.

We look forward to working with your Administration to ensure just and sustainable recovery for all Gulf Coast communities.


Mary Fontenot
Executive Director, All Congregations Together (ACT) of New Orleans

Sharon Gauthe
Executive Director, Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO)

Rabbi Steve Gutow
Executive Director, The Jewish Council of Public Affairs

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director, Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America

The Most Rev. Charles E. Blake
Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church

Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Charlie Clements
President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)

Ruth Flowers
Legislative Director, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. Raymond B. Goldstein, International President; and
Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, Executive Vice President and CEO
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt
Co-Chair Special Commission on the Just Re-building of the Gulf Coast

National Council of Churches

Dr. Joel C. Hunter *
Senior Pastor, Northland – A Church Distributed

Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ

Shelley Lindauer
Executive Director
Women of Reform Judaism

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
Co-Chair Special Commission on the Just Re-building of the Gulf Coast

National Council of Churches

Sr. Gayle Lwanga, RGS
National Coordinator, National Advocacy Center

Sisters of the Good Sheppard

Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski
Program Coordinator, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary, The Church of the Brethren

Nancy Ratzan
President, National Council of Jewish Women

Dr. Meg Riley
Director, Washington Office, Unitarian Universalist Association

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Dr. H. Eric Schockman
President, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Dr. Ronald J. Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action

Dr. Ann E. Smith
President, Gamaliel Foundation

Rev. Jim Wallis
CEO and President, Sojourners

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Jim Winkler
General Secretary, The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

Bishop John F. White
Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer, African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III
Executive Director, National Ministries
American Baptist Churches USA

Rabbi Shawn Zevit
Director of Outreach and Tikkun Olam, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray

Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi

Rt. Rev. Charles E. Jenkins
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana

Rt. Rev. William W. Hutchinson
Bishop, Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church

Rt. Rev. Morgan Ward
Bishop, Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church

Roberta Avila
Executive Director, STEPS Coalition

Dianne Aid
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

Dr. Abed Ayoub
CEO, Islamic Relief USA

Quo Vadis G. Breaux
Executive Director, Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal
New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center

Rev. Carol Burnett
Director, Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative
Director, Moore Community House

Rev. Al Carter
Chairman, Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO)

Rev. Alan Coe
Minister for Disaster Recovery, S.C. Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Tyronne Edwards
Founder/Executive Director, Zion Travelers Cooperative Center, Inc. Phoenix, LA

Dr. Alice Graham
Executive Director, Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force

Sharon Hanshaw
Executive Director, Coastal Women for Change

Dr. Frederick Haynes, III
Senior Pastor
Friendship West Baptist Church

Rev. Jacob Jang
General Secretary, Korean Presbyterian Church in America

David C. Jehnsen
Founder, The Institute for Human Rights and Responsibilities

Dr. Matthew V. Johnson
National Director, Every Church a Peace Church

Trinh Le
Community Empowerment Coordinator, Hope Community Development Agency (Hope CDA)

Glenda Perryman
Executive Director, Immaculate Heart Community Development Corp., Inc.

Marcia Peterson
Director, Desire Street Ministries/CDC 58:12 Inc.

Rev. Gilbert Scie
Pastor, Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church of New Orleans

Rev. Cory Sparks
Chair, Commission on Stewardship of the Environment,
Louisiana Interchurch Conference

Bill Stallworth
City Councilmember of Ward 2 Biloxi, Mississippi

Sister Mary Turgi
Director, Holy Cross International Justice Office

Rev. Jim VanderWeele
Senior Pastor, Community Church Unitarian Universalist of New Orleans

* Organization listed for purpose of identification



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