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Bishops join protest of proposed Medicaid cuts

The faith-based grassroots social action group POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) organized an interfaith rally this summer, which drew about 60 protesters. They included about a dozen supportive Eastern PA Conference pastors, most wearing clergy collars, among other religious leaders.

Bishops Peggy Johnson and Violet Fisher offered prayers in front of the Springfield office of U.S. Representative Patrick Leo Meehan (R-Pa., 7th District).

Congressman Meehan, who voted against the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA) that passed in the Republican-led House of Representatives in June, was not present at the rally. "It is really a publicity action to draw attention to this concern," said Bishop Johnson."

The protest focused on proposed spending reductions and other changes to Medicaid, which both Senate and House bills have proposed.

"We will continue to remind Congressman Meehan that we don't want Medicaid to be changed with the proposals for the new healthcare plan," said the Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER's Executive Director and the pastor of Janes Memorial UMC in Philadelphia. Other United Methodists have also held protests and sought meetings at Senator Pat Toomey's offices in Harrisburg and other locations.

The proposed Medicaid changes would affect mostly poor children, people with mental-health issues, and disabled people, but also mature, low-income citizens who do not qualify for Medicare benefits for the elderly. Nearly 5 million special needs children depend on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

     Courtesy photo.

Clergy and lay speakers at the rally—including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders—shared their views, recited relevant scriptures and told the small, attentive crowd about family members and friends who benefited from the ACA, especially its expanded Medicaid coverage, to heal critical illnesses and pre-existing health conditions. Meanwhile, listeners, stood on the grass and sidewalk in front of the building that houses Meehan's office, some holding up signs, as passing motorists honked their car horns to show support.

Bishop Fisher, who came from Delaware to participate, began the hour-long rally with a rousing prayer, and Bishop Johnson later ended it in prayer.

"We came to speak on behalf of continuing Medicaid coverage for the most vulnerable citizens of our nation," Johnson said later, citing the many persons who spoke about how Medicaid had saved their lives and the lives of their children.

Referring to Republican efforts in Congress to reduce funding and eligibility for Medicaid and other programs, Johnson said Rep. Meehan "voted not to support the cuts in the House bill, and he was commended for that at the rally."

"No one spoke against the President or had political partisan conversations," she added. "This peaceful gathering was organized by POWER, an interfaith citizen group that speaks on behalf of the poor and marginalized people of our state, and we support them in that advocacy."

John W. Coleman, Baltimore-Washington Conference Communicator

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