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Isaac Updates

H1B Visa- What is it?

As a general matter, people enter the United States as either as refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, or non-immigrants.  The first three categories enter with an intention of making the United States their permanent place of residence.  The non-immigrant, however, generally comes for a specific temporary purpose.  Work visas are a good example.  The H1B visa is a type of work visa that is granted to individuals who engage in “specialty occupations” or unique jobs.

“Specialty occupations” require “the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher for entry into the field.” This can be engineers, computer programmers, or other highly technical fields.  The H1B category is pretty diverse as well because it also includes specific categories for individuals that provide service to the Department of Defense and fashion models.

A potential employer must petition the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for a particular H1B immigrant and agree to be their sponsor.  The potential employer must prove to the satisfaction of the DOL that “there are insufficient qualified U.S. workers available and willing to perform the work at wages that meet or exceed the prevailing wage paid for that occupation in the area of intended employment.”  The potential employer must also attest to the DOL that:

  1. It will pay a wage no less than the wage paid to similarly qualified workers or, if the wage is greater, it will pay the prevailing wage for the position in the particular geographic area where the position is located;
  2. The employer will provide working conditions that will not adversely affect other similarly employed workers;
  3. The employer does not have a strike or lockout at its place of business; and
  4. The employer has posted the DOL filing at its place of business or given notice to any collective bargaining representative.

The failure of the employer to comply with the above can lead to fines and other penalties. 

H1B visas are currently limited to 65,000 nationwide.  Given the great demand for certain specialty workers, the fiscal year 2008 visa quota was reached six months prior to the start of the fiscal year (October 1).   The H1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended up to a total for six years.  If the H1B visa holder is dismissed prior to the expiration of his/her visa term, the employer must pay the “reasonable cost” of the employee’s transportation abroad.  The H1B visa holder may also change employers but it will require a new application by his/her prospective employer.
 

Public Policy Update

As we grow closer to the start of the 81st  Legislative Session, important work continues in the CLC.  In the following update are summaries of Electronic Take-Back Efforts, Churches Politics and the IRS Rules, Lottery Sales Down State-Wide, Gambling Session Watch, Health Insurance Reform, Review of Texas Department of Insurance, and Increase in Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Needed. 

Electronic Take-Back Efforts
A growing concern for the environment is the proper disposal of our electronics. Whether it be cell phones, iPods, computers or TVs we all know our electronic devices have a limited life and with technical advances quickly become obsolete. Many of these products contain materials such as lead, mercury and environmentally harmful brominated flame retardants.  A recent study found that lead from improperly disposed electronics ended up in contaminated children’s jewelry manufactured in China and imported to the US.
Read more about the harmful effects of E-Waste…(.pdf)

Many people are concerned and want to know just how to properly way get rid of these products. In 2007 the Texas legislature passed HB 2714 that requires the producers of computer equipment provide consumers with convenient and responsible recycling for their electronic waste.
Read more about recycling your old computer…

A number of organizations and corporations are calling for more legislation promoting “producer responsibility.” When manufacturers of electronics have to take into account the end of the usefulness of their products, not just the production, they are likely to create more environmentally friendly products that can be easily recycled, refurbished or upgraded. 

In February of next year a sweeping change in television will take place. All broadcasts in the US will be exclusively digital. While this does not affect consumers with cable, and old TVs can receive the signal with the help of a converter box, the change will still result in a number of discarded old analog TVs.  In the upcoming session the CLC will be working with The Electronics Take Back Coalition to help extend the law that applies to computers to include TVs.

Churches Politics and the IRS Rules
The 2008 presidential campaign season has reached a fever pitch. This year, as in past years, Christians are wondering about the proper place of churches in the political process. Churches as 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations are strictly prohibited from intervening in any campaign for or in opposition to any candidate for office. Of course this bar does not apply to individual Christians and fortunately there are still many things churches can do to promote faithful citizenship.  While the CLC encourages churches to let their voices be heard concerning public policy issues, intervening in partisan political races can get churches into plenty of hot water.

The CLC has compiled a helpful guidbook (.pdf) from the IRS about just what kind of activities churches can conduct, and what is prohibited. Since the rule is not always black and white and the IRS will look at all the facts and circumstances surrounding the church activity, most of the guidance comes in the form of example scenarios. The CLC has also produced a very simple one-page can and can’t do guide(.pdf)

Gambling

Lottery Sales Down State-Wide
The Texas Lottery’s fiscal year ended August 31, 2008 with both sales and revenue down.  This is significant considering many state lotteries reported record sales during this same period.  This is the first decline experienced by the Texas Lottery after six consecutive years where transfers to the state grew. Sales in the current fiscal year that began September 1st have continued the downward trend and are already approximately 15% down from the previous year. Proponents of expanding gambling in our State have complained that sales and participation levels in the Texas Lottery are declining because expansion opponents have blocked all attempts to expand the lottery.  This is excellent news and a welcome trend!  We look forward to continuing our message that the State should not operate a lottery that preys on the poor and less fortunate citizens of our State.

Session Watch
With the legislative session approximately 90 days away, we are preparing for another strong push from special interest entities to introduce casino style gambling into our State.  A recently formed organization called “Horse” looks like they will lead the way on the argument of placing video lottery terminals at horse and dog tracks this time around.  We are also expecting to see full-blown casino legislation; as well as, attempts to legalize keno, poker, electronic raffles and sweepstakes games just to name a few.  However, the introduction of Indian Casinos in our State probably presents the most clear and present danger that we will face in the upcoming legislative session. 

Health Insurance Reform
As the legislative session approaches, health insurance remains a critical issue due to the high number of Texans without coverage.  Legislators, advocacy groups and industry stakeholders are looking to bridge the gap and find solutions for lowering the number of uninsured.  The CLC is looking to foster public / private partnerships where health care providers and state government work together to create policies with lower premiums that provide access to quality care for those who cannot access our health care insurance system due to cost.     

Review of Texas Department of Insurance Creates Opportunity for Reform
A top to bottom review of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) occurring now and a bill to be filled during the legislative session has given advocates the opportunity to seek meaningful reform of the agency. A large group has called on TDI to enact real rate oversight, to strengthen the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) which is designed to act as an independent advocate for policy holders, to strengthen its mission to include a focus on consumer protection and to ask TDI to promote health insurance coverage in Texas. Insurance regulation is an issue that is sure to get plenty of attention during the next legislative session especially in the wake of such devastating storms along the Texas coast. The CLC will work to keep you up to date on the developments.

Increase in Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Need to Provide Care to Elderly Texans
In the past year Nationwide, the fractures of the healthcare system are affecting the need for affordable, long-term care. In Texas, our aging population is growing, but more than 53 Texas nursing homes have closed in the last 24 months; about 40% of the closures are in rural areas. This is a crisis.  Much of the problem is caused by a low rate of reimbursement to nursing homes that provide care to residents who are on Medicaid. The daily rate of reimbursement is only $107.00 per patient but it costs $120.00 on average to care for a resident each day. The state of Texas is carrying a growing burden for Medicaid funding with health care costs consuming more and more of the state budget, a Medicaid shortfall of $1.2 billion is expected by December 2008. Texas ranks 49th in daily Medicaid funding and seventy percent of the nursing home residents are Medicaid eligible. New service models and funding formulas are needed to protect medical services and prevent more nursing homes from closing due to lack of adequate minimal funding.
 

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Substance Abuse Banner

I recently had the opportunity to visit Hazelden treatment center in Minneapolis. Hazelden is one of the leaders in the treatment, education and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. The Butler Center for Research at Hazelden recently published a research study about preventing adolescent substance abuse which showed that prevention works best when attention is given to multiple protective factors.  Increasing protective factors supports healthy development in all areas which helps the adolescent to resist the influences to use.

The protective factors identified were:

  1. Strong family bonds
  2. Parental engagement in child’s life
  3. Clear parental expectations and consequences
  4. Academic success
  5. Strong bonds with school and church

We have a tremendous opportunity in our church life to influence these protective factors in adolescents.

We will have the chance to hear Melinda Austin, the National Outreach Manager for Hazelden at the annual Substance Abuse Ministry dinner in Ft. Worth.  I hope to see you there.

View more Substance Abuse Resources…

 

Suzii OrmondDid you know that in the 1800s, Sunday school was begun as a community ministry in England—not to teach the Bible initially, but to teach street children who worked during the week how to read and write? Lester Merriweather, Director of Literacy Connexus ministry, reminds us that an army of Christians were moved with compassion to change the world through teaching children what they already knew. In his recent opinion piece in the Baptist Standard, he went on to suggest that  a new mission field for Texas could be that 23% of Texans who are college graduates act with Christian compassion by tutoring one of the 25% of Texans without a high school diploma, giving back the gift of literacy and achievement.

Following the direction of Abriendo Puertas! (Opening Doors!) (.pdf), the report of the Hispanic Education Advisory Council of the BGCT, the CLC is working in Austin to support access and improvement for dropout prevention & recovery and adult learning in Texas.  Adult education is a two generation solution because when parents learn, their children do better in school, too.

For the past two years we have helped to host Literacy Day at the Capitol. We expected 30 – 40 adult basic education students to come to Austin to tell their stories of eager learning, second jobs, family sacrifice and increased work skills. But we were surprised. More than 300 working adults showed up to meet their legislators – 335 adults working on their English, their GED, their workplace skills. These are remarkably sacrificial Texans – they are doing double duty to provide for their families and seek a better future. They are turning the past around and building a future. But they need a system that works with them and with the dedicated teachers, counselors and mentors that guide these second chance Texans.

There is a message from Texas to those without a high school diploma. Put yourself in the shoes of one of those 335 students who came to the capitol. If you believe that you are a failure in high school, you believe that there is no place for you on a college campus…until you get a GED or more. If you think college is closed to you and you want to get more education where do you go? In your town – where would you go? Is adult learning an “invisible door” in your town?

Stick with this demographic exercise just a minute more. The state of Texas will put several things at your finger tips. You may lack a high school diploma, but you can see advertisements galore for pay day loans and pawn shops. You can buy a lottery ticket at every convenience store counter ( lottery advertising budget alone  is 4 times the expenditure of adult education) …as a state we are sending real messages about debt and chance…but where do you go to go forward to improve your life through learning? How do you know what to do?

This week I testified at the Senate Education Committee of the Texas Legislature on the need and solutions for adult learners. We do not think the adult education system is broken; we think it is anemic. Given the meager resources and educational isolation, the current system does remarkable work consistently supported by ministries and community volunteers. The Christian Life Commission supports efforts to provide robust and meaningful adult education.
The recovery and support of former dropouts is a needed ministry in Texas, Our Texas. 

However, if we want to do more than educate our adults to become members of the working poor, we must rethink the mission and delivery of adult education. Completion of adult literacy, ESL or GED must become the half-way point in a trajectory that leads to transition to and success in post secondary education or skilled and technical job training. This will require new partnerships between adult literacy programs and post secondary institutions at both the state policy level and the local operational level.

Texas, with more than 5 million adults in need of education, serves only 100,000.  We spend so little on adult education that it would take Texas 80 years to equal what California invests in one year or 45 years to equal what Florida invests in one year.

But there are some very simple ways to dramatically fix this problem – It is important to note that the vast majority of persons who come to adult education programs in Texas are close to succeeding with just a little help.  Many of these students are able to achieve their GED in a relatively short period of time (less than one year). 

Texas adults need an affordable (to the student) system for transitioning GED students to college readiness to prevent the squandering of Pell Grants etc. on non credit courses, finding themselves without loan options when they need core college credit courses. Pilot programs of GED PLUS have been successful across the state: GED PLUS job skills, GED PLUS a college course, GED plus English, GED plus a mentor, GED PLUS a college advisor all make difference.

There are also ways to use technology and spread English learning throughout the community. Sed de Saber (“Thirst for Knowledge”) is a portable, electronic learning system developed by Retention Education, Inc. It uses storytelling, voice recording, games and review exercises to build and improve English language skills. Sed de Saber combines English as a second language (ESL) curriculum with the LeapFrog Quantum LeapPad Plus Microphone©, allowing the learner to record, play back, and compare his/her voice to the word or phrase being learned, which increases confidence in pronunciation skills. The Santa Ana, Ca. Chamber of Commerce is purchasing 1,000 Sed de Saber systems to help educate members of the community via their various educational and business partners. Retention Education will provide up to 5,000 Sed de Saber systems in conjunction with sponsored programs during Hispanic Heritage Month. Sed de Saber is currently teaching conversational English to roughly 55,000 Hispanic workers in the foodservice, hospitality, and construction industries, as well as 10,000 Hispanic parents of English language-learning children via our nation’s school systems.

Living the Christian life can be as simple as reading with your neighbor; showing the love of Christ letter by letter, word by word. I tutored a woman years ago while at Baylor. I saw her struggle with learning what seemed easy for me; our friendship grew, our faith grew and we both were changed by Christ’s love as she moved towards her GED. Reading and learning are talents, in the Biblical sense. We can use them for ourselves only or we can share what is abundant in our lives in an offering to Jesus that he will bless. 
 

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Carbon FootprintOne simple starting place for those who want to take personal action regarding the environment is to complete a carbon footprint calculator. There are many places on the web that offer calculators but BP’s Energy Calculator is a good one. 

After completing the calculator you will instantly become more aware of what steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.

There are many simple steps that churches can take to reduce their impact on the environment. The CLC has resources that can help your church start a Creation Care Council, conduct Bible studies on caring for creation, incorporate hymns and sermons promoting good stewardship, start a recycling program, and conduct an energy audit that may even save the church money. 

The Environmental Action Team at the First Baptist Church of Austin developed a brochure Elements of Awareness (.pdf) to let members know what they can do to help the environment. The brochure is broken down in categories of things that are easy to things for experts.

Texas Interfaith Power and Light is another good resource for churches looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. They can even help churches who want to purchase renewable energy credits that offset the polluting effects of energy use by supporting the development of clean renewable energy.  

 

Caring for the environmentThe effect of human activity on God’s creation has been a growing concern for years in our society. Recently, we have been bombarded by advertisements promoting “green” products, detailing the pro-environmental policies of companies and declarations by energy and oil companies about what they are doing to promote alternative sources of energy. Nowhere has a shift in awareness been more evident than in the attitudes of Christians.

More and more, Christians are beginning to see caring for creation as a Biblical mandate from God. Scripture affirms the beauty of creation and God’s love for all creation – both human and non-human. God, in infinite wisdom, ordered the planet so that it all works together in harmony relentlessly praising God. When we disrupt that harmony, it is the least of these who most often experience the greatest suffering. Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves is linked with our responsibility to protect and care for the entire creation. Being stewards of God’s resources means careful consideration of how our actions impact the planet and all its inhabitants.

A recent survey by the Barna Group found “Three-quarters of self-identified Christians (78%) agree they would like to see their fellow Christians take a more active role in caring for God’s creation in a way that is both informed and biblical. Among evangelicals, 90% would like Christians to take a more active role in caring for creation,” 

The change has not just been in attitude. Thankfully, most of us are beginning to live in a more environmentally responsible way. The same survey found that “One out of every two adults say they have made specific changes to their lifestyle in the last 12 months because they are aware of the environmental impact.”

David Kinnaman, who directed the research, notes that "the Christian community is in tension about environmental engagement, being surprisingly active and engaged, but unsure about what to do next or whom to believe.” Kinnaman also found there to be “a void in Christian leadership on environmental issues, as well as an inability to articulate clearly and confidently a biblical understanding of creation care.” Since climate change in particular is very controversial, “many churches have simply avoided dealing with the subject, ceding the conversation to other voices.” While it may not be an easy arena for most churches or Christian leaders to venture into, Kinnaman believes that “the Christian community is ready for balanced, thoughtful, non-partisan and engaged leadership on this crucial issue."

The Christian Life Commission stands ready to help churches discuss the critical issue of creation care from both a theological and practical perspective. Moreover, the CLC has resources to help churches and Christians act out their convictions. A great place to learn about the issues from a Christian perspective is our website.

In November of 2006 the CLC published our annual report to the convention entitled Therefore: Environmental Justice. In response, the BGCT approved the following resolution:

Whereas the Bible affirms that "the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it" (Psa : 24:1) and

Whereas the pronouncement, " And God saw it was good" reverberates throughout the creation account in Genesis 1; and

Whereas we are called by God to honor the goodness of creation and secure its well being (Genesis 1 and 2); and

Whereas the earth’s air, water, soil, and inhabitants are increasingly threatened by environmental degradation; and

Whereas our failure to address adequately environmental degradation threatens generations present and future;

Therefore be it resolved that the messengers to the Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in Dallas, November 13 – 14, 2006 affirm the biblical call to creation care and

Be it finally resolved that we practice faithful stewardship of the environment in concrete ways in our churches and in our everyday lives and that we advocate for sound environmental policies in the public square.

The Christian Life Commission is committed, now more than ever, to promote faithful stewardship and advocate for sound environmental policies in Austin.

 

LA GRANGE – First Baptist Church Pastor Jonathan Smith had no idea how much the life of his summer intern, Stephen Jones, Jr., would change after just a few months in church ministry. Full Story »