Tag Archives: Government Affairs

Our Concerns for 2020

With election 2018 (not quite) behind us, and election 2020 squarely in the headlights, we’re sitting in the brief moment between cycles of hyperbolic conversations about how non-profits engage on the great challenges facing our nation.

In the most simple sense, there is long standing legal guidance that allows 501(c)(3)s (the IRS designation for federal tax exempt nonprofit organizations) to address public issues – as we do in our advocacy for legislation and public policies – provided that we do so without expressing a preference for a party or candidate in an election, endorsing a candidate, or releasing a voter guide that is implicitly single issue or preferences one party.

More can be said on this (don’t consider the above paragraph as legal counsel to your organization!) but candidly, that’s a technical answer about what the law allows and what magic words one can or cannot say.

Of more interest to us is – what do we care about? What matters to us in the arena of government and policy? And how do we galvanize our attention on these matters?

It bears repeating that we at JCRC – a network of Jewish organizations coming together in shared purpose around the collective agenda of the Jewish community in the public arena – see ourselves as fundamentally invested in two core principles (as stated in our mission): advocacy for a safe, secure, democratic state of Israel; and promoting an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.

To those ends, we intend to educate 2020 candidates about our views on the policy issues that stem from those principles, such as our support for the U.S. as an engaged leader on the international stage, including support for our ally Israel and efforts to achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. It means informing candidates about the Jewish community’s commitment to civil rights for all Americans, the importance of addressing anti-Semitism and bigotry, fair and just immigration policies, and a strong social safety net. And we’ll also be listening to candidates, hearing their views, and sharing with our community about how they think about these policy concerns.

But frankly, there are concerns in 2020 that are both broader and potentially more urgent than these longstanding communal priorities.

It would have been naïve to think that this week’s election would resolve a much larger existential challenge facing our nation – our fractured and tribal culture, the fraying of our democratic norms and the institutions of our civic space, and the breakdown of our ability to work with each other across specific policy disagreements in service to a common notion of the American idea. Naïve because these challenges didn’t start in the past few years, though they’ve been greatly exacerbated; these challenges have been growing, albeit ignored by many, long before 2016.

A challenge that’s been festering over the past two decades isn’t going away tomorrow or in 2020. It’s going to take leadership over the next decades – and not just from those seeking high national office, but from all of us in positions of influence over the civic space and our public discourse.

So yes, heading into 2020, and 2022, and 2024, we’ll need to be educating candidates and ourselves about the policy issues we hold dear. We’ll also need to be asking them what their vision and strategy is for healing the divides that are fracturing our nation, challenging them to show leadership to that end – regardless of what others in public life might do – and challenging ourselves as leaders to model a better future for what ails our nation.

I invite your thoughts and insights on the specific things we can do to influence this conversation and model it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Championing our community’s values in the 2019 MA Budget

A state budget is a financial document. But at its essence, it’s statement of values and an affirmation of what a government stands for. At JCRC, we’re keenly aware that for many in our Commonwealth, budget decisions are not abstractions, nor is the process a game of wins and losses. These debates have profound implications for the lives of real people. The determinations of lawmakers can make the difference between a stable job or economic despair, between staying in your home or being institutionalized, between living in safety or hiding in fear.

In partnership with our communal agencies, JCRC champions our community’s values by advocating for funding of three overarching priority areas: creating pathways to economic opportunity, supporting individuals and families in their homes, and ensuring safety for our most vulnerable.

Yesterday, Governor Baker signed the budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Below is a glimpse into our achievements, and the very tangible ways in which the services funded will improve lives.

Creating Pathways to Economic Opportunity
  • More than ever, a college degree is a foundational element to get a foothold in today’s evolving economy and for some, this pathway is simply unattainable. The Bridges to College budget line-item, modeled after the JVS program, helps students surmount obstacles and enter directly into credit bearing classes. This year, for the first time, we delivered additional dollars directly to JVS to meet the increased demand.
  • People in our community face multiple barriers to employment, and we’ve fought consistently for those who’ve been left behind.

We secured $150,000 for the Transitions to Work line-item, modeled after the innovative program developed by the Ruderman Foundation, JVS, and CJP to help adults with disabilities enter the workforce; $1,000,0000 to train immigrants and refugees who have come to Massachusetts to create their own futures;

and $1,000,000 to the Secure Jobs Initiative, (a $350,000 increase), envisioned by the Fireman Family to help individuals facing homelessness find stable jobs and supports to stay in their homes.

"I came to Boston from El Salvador speaking no English. I knew that I needed college to get a good job, but I did not even know where to begin. At JVS, I learned English, how to apply to college and financial aid, and as a result, I am the first person from my family to graduate college.” – Dimas, Jewish Vocational Services client

Supporting Individuals and Families in their Homes

“Having a baby as a single parent is hard enough as it is. Adding a layer of substance use is an added stress, something most other parents don’t have. The team at JF&CS have stood with me and my baby when it seemed like everyone else wanted to give up on us.” – Kelly, Jewish Family and Children's Services Client

  • At JF&CS, Fragile Beginnings and Project NESST were created to offer vital services to support the parents and caregivers of vulnerable infants who have had to stay in the NICU, including premature and substance-exposed babies. We helped secure $400,000 to provide services to these families as they transition home, and throughout their child’s developmental years.
  • We sustained funding of $642,000 for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) line-item, a model which enables many seniors to stay in their homes and communities by bringing valuable programs and services to them. For the last decade, we have worked with JFS Metrowest, JF&CS, and JFS of Western Mass to expand this model of healthy aging in place.

“JFS works so hard to get outside speakers and entertainment to come to us and I am so thankful. They brought an exercise instructor to teach weekly aerobics classes and my doctors are so thrilled that I am getting weekly exercise at my apartment. The lunch group and trivia have been very helpful too. After my fall this winter, I feel that I have lost some of my memory and the trivia really makes me think."
Barbara, JFS Client

Ensuring Safety for our Most Vulnerable

  • In past years, this priority area focused exclusively on populations traditionally seen as vulnerable, including fragile seniors and those living on the economic margins. But with emerging threats to the Jewish community and other minorities, we’ve been called to respond to a new and disturbing vulnerability of our times.

"There's been a heightened sense of vulnerability and a documented increase in threats and hate crimes against Jewish community centers, African-American churches, and mosques, and it is very important that we provide these types of organizations, especially those on a shoestring budget, the means to put meaningful protections in place" – State Senator Eric Lesser

In response to these threats against JCCs and day schools, JCRC led efforts to create a pilot program to provide security support to communities excluded from a similar federal program. This year, the state doubled the grant to $150,000 and ensured that all regions of the Commonwealth have access to these vital grants.

While we took many steps forward as a Commonwealth during the FY19 budget process, we also experienced great disappointment. One of the most hotly discussed policy items considered during the budget debate was a compromise containing elements of the Safe Communities Act, to promote the safety and civil rights of our immigrant neighbors. These provisions, included in the Senate budget but absent in the final product, reflected long-standing constitutional protections, including an end to unlawful racial and ethnic profiling, the acknowledgment of the right to counsel in civil proceedings, and a ban on registries based on religion. The failure to act will result in continued persecution and danger for immigrants (and those perceived to be) and the trampling of constitutional rights which extend to all persons in the United States.

As the legislative session comes to an end on July 31st, we are grateful to our many partners in the House and Senate who worked with us to set these priorities, and we remain committed to work with our partners in advocacy and government to enshrine policies that reflect the best in our shared humanity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

Urging legislative action

As the Massachusetts legislature begins the second year of its two-year session, there’s been chatter about town about what was accomplished last year and what remains to be done. It is no secret that this year’s budget process may be the “trickiest” in some time. Governor Baker, amongst others, has been outspoken in urging legislative action this year. It behooves us at JCRC to tell our community, our allies, and our friends on Beacon Hill what our priorities are for the remainder of this session.

1. A budget that reflects Massachusetts and Jewish values:
At a time when more and more in our society are pulling away from each other, when a tribal inclination to care only for our own is being amplified, we believe it is more important than ever to be invested in the common good and to care for each other. We support a state budget that works with human service providers in a public/non-profit partnership to ensure a social safety net, provide a ladder of opportunity, and strengthen the civic network that enriches our Commonwealth.

By continuing to invest in a robust partnership among service providers including Jewish human service agencies and our Commonwealth, we marshal our resources together to advance our shared priorities. These include:

  • Building a strong safety net for the most vulnerable, including seniors and those who are at-risk of homelessness.
  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to inclusion and workforce development focused on surmounting persistent and artificially imposed barriers to employment, including for young adults with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, and adults who have struggled to get a leg up in this economy, and;
  • Ensuring a vibrant non-profit sector, including implementation and expansion of state supplements to the federal non-profit security grants initiative, benefiting a wide array of vulnerable institutions that bear a heavy security burden.

2. A civil rights agenda that sets Massachusetts as a beacon of hope in troubling times:
We have said, repeatedly, that what has made America a great country for the Jewish community to thrive in is our protection for the rights of all individuals and our defense of the freedoms and opportunity ensured by the rule of law and the advancement of equality for all who live here. To that end:

  • We remain steadfast in our broad communal commitment, expressed last January, that the United States must not close our doors to immigrants and refugees and that our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign born neighbors throughout the Commonwealth. To that end we will continue to urge passage of the Safe Communities Act to protect the civil rights, safety and well-being of all residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety.
  • We continue to prioritize passage of the Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts. As nearly half of all states have taken related action, it is well past time to close the loophole in state law that allows state contractors to discriminate based on national origin and other immutable traits. As Massachusetts continues to compete in a global economy it serves us poorly that other hubs for international business partnerships – like Rhode Island, Maryland, New York and California – have taken action to prevent discrimination against Israeli (and other) individual owned businesses while Massachusetts remains inactive. We should be a leader in the fight against discrimination in all its forms.
  • We will continue to work for comprehensive criminal justice reform guided by the policy recommendations set by our Council last winter. While the MA House and Senate have each passed a version of this legislation, we will work, in coalition, to ensure that each house passes a final bill that addresses the crisis of criminalization of people of color.

3. Defending our democracy’s norms:
We live in a period of unique challenge for our nation, in which, as David Brooks wrote this week, we’re not just debating current policy but also working to ensure that the norms of our vibrant democracy are preserved for the future. To that end, we are all called to defend the institutions and customs that ensure accountability, transparency, and a healthy, vigorous, and respectful public debate about the issues our nation faces. We therefore will continue to urge passage of An Act Restoring Financial Transparency in Presidential Elections and will consider other legislative means to do our part here in Massachusetts to protect those norms through the establishment of new laws that preserve the fundamentals which make our nation great.

We also are working alongside civil rights and voting rights activists to secure passage of the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) legislation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences. Similarly, when one person is ensured that access, we all reap the rewards. AVR could bring hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls on Election Day.

This agenda, defined by our Council representing our 42 member organizations and the community-at-large, through a deliberative process, reflects the organized Jewish community’s priorities, established over time and evolving to meet this particular moment. We remain steadfast in our determination that through the actions above, Massachusetts can continue to be the ‘City on the Hill,’ a shining island of hope in these challenging times and a model to other states about the way forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC Statement regarding proposed MA Democratic Party Resolution

In response to press inquiries regarding the proposed resolution on peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton has offered the following statement on behalf of JCRC:

"We share the sentiment of the resolution's sponsors that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security achieved through a two-state solution. However, this resolution presents a simplistic response to a complex conflict. By offering a one-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem, the resolution is a failed opportunity to offer constructive guidance on how to achieve peace. We urge people of good will to support those Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who are working together to create the conditions of co-existence and mutual respect that are necessary for achieving the peace we all yearn for.

This is a time of great uncertainty in the world. Serious questions are being raised about our own governments' ability to lead. Given the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria, the challenge of North Korea, and the threats to liberal democratic institutions in Europe, among other issues, we are interested to see if the proponents will put forth a comprehensive foreign policy platform articulating American interests in the world and addressing the numerous international challenges we must face.

We share the drafters' sense of urgency that together we must address rising anti-Muslim hate in the wake of the election. We are curious why the resolution does not address the actual policies that are being advanced in Washington, such as limiting visitors to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries and closing our doors to immigrants and refugees from the Muslim and Arab world. We would hope that any serious response to rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Washington would address these issues as well as the increase in hate targeting our Muslim neighbors here in Massachusetts and around the country."

Conventions and Conversations

If you are like me you are probably a bit sleep deprived today, having stayed up far too late for most of the last two weeks watching the two party conventions, their speakers, floor drama, and subsequent analysis. Or, maybe you only watched one convention, or maybe some key moments, highlights, or possibly just followed some of the coverage without staying up for the speeches. Either way, most of us are alike in one aspect – by and large we watched with at least some pre-existing notions about who we’d be voting for in November, and by and large what we saw and heard reaffirmed our notions.

To be fair, national party conventions aren’t about the practice of speaking to those already affirmed in their loyalty across the partisan divide. They are intended to establish the candidates and their parties as clear alternatives to each other. The rhetoric is, quite naturally, a mix of inspiration to mobilize a political base and, when effective, to re-introduce candidates and make some headway with those who are on the fence. Frankly, in an election season, it is vitally important to articulate and make known the distinctions between the candidates. We must be clear about the consequences of the choices in front of us, and we must cast our votes with the solemnity of the power that is entrusted to us in doing so.

But we also need to have the conversations that bridge our divides – as a nation, and for that matter as a Jewish community; the conversations that enable us to understand those with whom we deeply disagree, to identify and define shared national aspirations, to dream as one people, and to determine how our leaders should govern for the whole nation. We haven’t been able to have those conversations in recent years when – as Pew has noted – our increasingly negative partisan feelings toward each other have pushed us further away from finding common ground with each other.

One might ask why we must (and even how we can possibly) make an effort to converse with people whose views are opposed to ours or perhaps deeply offensive to us? Reasons are abundant – including the importance of unity to counter the daunting challenges in these difficult times. It is worth evoking David Brooks’ proposition that in a deeply complex world, the better conversation is rooted in “a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process” which improves the mediocre idea or legislation. Brooks' writes that in this system, “others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.”

As smart, passionate, knowledgeable and experienced as each of us and any of our leaders may be, Brooks argues that people should be modest enough to acknowledge that “they are useless without the conversation.” That there is no greater wisdom than the one society acquires through a collective process of sharing, disputing and discussing ideas over time.

I’m reminded of a verse we’re all familiar with from Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are less familiar with the sentences leading up to this injunction:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

When read in full, the biblical text calls us not only to love our neighbor, and not only to rebuke them when necessary, but do both simultaneously, as equally important social duties. I read this text as a reminder that we need to disagree, and rebuke, but always with love. We can argue, but we must not have malice. We can debate, but we must not divide.

During the 2012 election cycle Rabbi Amy Eilberg, writing about polarized political communication, quoted Martin Buber:

“The human world is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understands the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth. . . . Each side has assumed monopoly of the sunlight and has plunged its antagonist into night, and each side demands that you decide between day and night. . . . ”

Noting that these words, written in 1952, could apply to our modern politics and to Jewish communal disputes, Rabbi Eilberg wrote:

“I can imagine how pained Buber would be to see the dynamics of polarization growing ever more violent with the passage of time, endangering the integrity and cohesiveness of Jewish communities and of democratic societies. But once we recognize the underlying dynamics of polarized communication, we may rediscover our ability to relate to others — even our ideological opponents — as persons created in the image of God, our neighbors and friends.”

Four years later, we are more polarized than ever.

As I head into the weekend ready to catch up on my sleep, I’m glad I watched both conventions. I like being an informed voter, knowing the messages of both parties and both candidates, and – frankly –I am thrilled at the experience of witnessing the historic breaking of a glass ceiling in real time. But I’m also yearning, maybe fantastically, for another convention; the one where we’ll all come together – every American - to listen respectfully and humbly, to rebuke with love, to find understanding, and to remind ourselves that all of us are created in the Divine image.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Dilemmas in a Dark Moment

In 2012, when Barney Frank decided to leave Congress, JCRC organized a candidates’ forum with the Democratic and Republican candidates running to succeed him. We heard from a few people in our community who objected to our engagement with one of the candidates who held strong views on a range of issues in opposition to stances taken by JCRC.
 
We took that opportunity to remind our Council that as a 501 (c)(3) organization, the IRS code allows us to advocate for our priorities but bars us from showing preference to a particular candidate. And we pointed out that although the likelihood of this particular candidate being elected was low, it was still a possibility, so we had an obligation to our community to find a way to be in a relationship with him should he win.
 
I’m reminded of this exchange as we and many of our member organizations are facing the far more significant dilemmas posed by this year’s presidential election.
 
This weekend I will be at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where most major candidates are confirmed to speak and all have been invited. The inclusion of the Republican front-runner has brought reactions, including the Reform Movement’s vow to “engage” him, while there, “in a way that affirms our nation's democracy and our most cherished Jewish values.” ADL’s national director this week published an op-ed calling the candidate’s ideas “bigoted, revolting and simply un-American,” and expressing the hope that it is this behavior that “all people regardless of their political affiliation call out at every instance.”
 
Regardless of how troubling many of us find the rhetoric and behavior of this candidate, by inviting him to its conference, AIPAC is simply doing its job.
Those who tell you today that there is no way that this candidate could become President are the same people who were saying six months ago that he could not possibly come as far as he already has. As a focused, single-issue organization, AIPAC has a responsibility to engage the next President of the United States and clarify that person’s view on the U.S.-Israel relationship without indicating any bias or preference. We need to fully hear his views on this matter in more than debate one-liners.
 
It is also true that this is a profoundly troubling moment in our history.  Never have we seen such a degradation of this nation’s political discourse. The qualities that have made this country great for Jews and in fact, for all Americans – robust liberal democracy, constitutional freedom, a commitment to civil liberties and the protection of minority rights – are under direct challenge. Our nation without these qualities would become a more dangerous place for all of us. Beyond our shores, America would become further diminished in the world (including, for what it is worth, as an effective advocate for Israel in international arenas). Let’s not kid ourselves — those who said we could afford to ignore a candidate’s comments six months ago are no longer laughing at them.
 
It is within this context that I have profound admiration for leaders who are speaking to this political moment. I deeply appreciate those in our community who are not limited by their responsibility to particular institutional roles and who are giving voice to a robust critique of some candidates. I honor the way in which the URJ is approaching a moral calling without diminishing the importance of AIPAC’s obligation to the pro-Israel community.
 
I don’t know what will happen during this coming week or over the course of the campaign. I do know that when I show up at AIPAC on Sunday, I will be there as the director of this institution. As such, I will honor the responsibility placed on me by our community to steward our public voice in all its breadth and diversity without partisan bias or preference for any candidate. I’ll also honor being entrusted to articulate our values and interests with as much clarity as circumstances allow.
 
Even in this dark moment – when I’m continually asked, “What should we do? What can we do?” - I take some heart in the respectful ways in which our various member organizations are navigating a difficult dilemma without demeaning and denigrating each other and in the seriousness of thought with which our community is confronting the moment.
 
I draw strength in the unity of purpose that I see emerging. We are renewing our shared commitment to an American idea that has served us so well and that, if we fight to ensure its survival, will continue to renew our nation in the years to come. In that, and in the knowledge that we as a nation have faced dark political moments before and are today stronger for them, I have hope for a better future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Stop Waiting for Congress on Gun Violence

"Clergy and Citizens to President Obama: Stop Whining, Start Working to Curb Gun Deaths.”

That was the message at a Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) press conference in Washington yesterday.

While last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon should have fully captured our nation’s attention, we have, in truth, become numb. A shooting of this nature happens on average once every two weeks and even the slaughter of 20 children in Sandy Hook, CT didn’t lead to immediate national change. While this alone is mind-boggling, it doesn’t begin to express the scope of the plague of gun violence that takes some thirty-three thousand American lives each year.
 
It is little consolation to us that Massachusetts, once again, is found to be leading the nation. In ranking done by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence we have the lowest rate of gun deaths and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws. This includes last year’s forward thinking legislation that JCRC, along with our member organization JALSA, and so many of our synagogues, took a leading role in working to enact.

In the wake of that victory, we have not been idle. We’ve been vigilant and persistent in ensuring that the new state law is fully implemented, an effort that is ongoing. But the prospect of enacting federal legislation is much more daunting, despite the support of our own delegation in Congress. The repetitive, nightmarish scenes of carnage we have both come to dread and expect, have yielded no new laws, or even the possibility of legislative action.
 
So it is important to know that amidst all the crass politics and cynical obstructionism, there is far more that can be done right now. 
 
We are participating in the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign - a national effort led by Metro IAF to leverage taxpayers’ purchasing power to compel gun manufacturers to adopt safer practices and invest in smart gun technology.
 
The public sector purchases 40 percent of all guns in the United States - 25% for military use and an additional 15% by law enforcement.  That’s a lot of leverage – enough to build demand for products and standards that promote safety and lawful, responsible gun use.
 
The campaign is building a Gun Buyers’ Research Group of public officials committed to purchasing guns from manufacturers who are accountable for the safety of their products. They are asking tough questions about their investment in smart gun technology and their vetting of the dealers with whom they work. Together we have built a sizable coalition of mayors, police chiefs and governors representing 77 jurisdictions, including MA Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.  
 
And this campaign led to yesterday’s press conference. Because we should expect and demand more of all our public officials, including the President, who – with his command authority over the largest single gun purchasing power in the nation - could be doing so much more right now.

Please read about this work and yesterday’s message in this excellent Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne.

The next major action will take place later this month at an international law enforcement gathering. JCRC will join faith leaders and police chiefs to demand answers from gun manufacturers, who will be in attendance, selling their products. In the wake of the constant mass shootings and unending epidemic of gun violence, the manufacturers’ continued silence is unacceptable.
 
Leviticus teaches us, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
 
We, and our partners, will not be idle so long as one life can be saved through our efforts. I hope you will join us in this effort.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Note: At the time this message was posted, news was breaking of a shooting earlier today at North Arizona University that left 1 dead and 3 wounded in the latest eruption of gun violence. 

Testimony on An Act Regulating Use of Credit Reports by Employers (as prepared)

Testimony on House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123 – An Act Regulating Use of Credit Reports by Employers (as prepared)

Delivered by Aaron Agulnek, July 21, 2015

Good Afternoon Chairman Wolf and Chairman Scibak and members of the Committee. My name is Aaron Agulnek and I am from the Jewish Community Relations Council and I am here to testify in support of House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123, which would restrict the ability of employers to run pre employment credit checks on applicants and potential employees.

I do not need to tell you about the significant barriers to employment faced by many people in our communities.  Whether it is the lack of reliable child care, access to affordable transportation, insufficient vocational and skills training opportunities, limited English proficiency, or a disability; the odds are stacked high up against people trying to get back on their feet and into meaningful employment.  As we all know, good-paying jobs with defined career ladder opportunities are an essential path to economic mobility.

However, a trend has emerged where employers are running pre-employment credit checks and rejecting qualified individuals with so called “bad” credit out-of-hand.  This is bad policy and in most cases not even relevant to an individual’s fitness for employment! Our senior Senator Elizabeth Warren filed similar legislation in Congress and she stated that: “It makes no sense to make it harder for people to get jobs because of a system of credit reporting that has no correlation with job performance and can be riddled with inaccuracies." I can’t agree more.  It just makes no sense!

There are a multitude of reasons why an individual can have bad credit, from large medical debt, student loans, foreclosures, and yes, even errors by the credit rating agencies. One of the main reasons, however, is because of unemployment!  Basically, we have employers telling job seekers that because they are unemployed they are not qualified to be employed and therefore must remain unemployed.  So our friends, family, and neighbors are plunged further and further into debt, put more strain on the safety net, are more despondent about their future prospects and so on.  This is a cycle that needs to end.

As a Commonwealth, we have a duty to work together to create policies that support our citizenry and reduce obstacles so all people have the tools to provide for themselves and their families AND to live lives of dignity.  The Jewish community, through the innovative work of JVS, has been honored to work with this esteemed Committee, and our community partners to develop and implement innovative educational, vocational and skills-based programs that get people into jobs, with defined career ladders and opportunities for growth, and turn perceived obstacles into employable strengths. But even the best support and training cannot overcome this pre-employment credit rating threshold.

We have been your partners in efforts to increase the minimum wage, to extend earned sick leave, and to invest in crucial job training efforts. As a Commonwealth, we have come a long way towards focusing on opportunities for shared prosperity and economic opportunity; but we still have a long way to go.  We respectfully request that you report  House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123 out favorably and put an end to the arbitrary and unnecessary use of credit history in employment.

I also wanted to note on the record the JCRC’s strong support for An Act to Establish Equal Pay (House Bill 1733 and Senate Bill 983); Resolutions to Encourage Equitable and Diverse Gender Representation on the Boards of Companies in the Commonwealth (Senate 1007); and An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (House 1769) and are proud to stand with the Equal Pay Coalition and urge a favorable report out of Committee.