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Deputies Reject 10% Assessment, Back Healthcare Changes

The House of Deputies on June 24 overwhelmingly rejected a proposal intended to slash the diocesan assessment to the Church Center from 15 percent to 10 percent of a diocese’s income.

Earlier, by a nearly unanimous vote, the deputies approved a proposal to eliminate a variety of perceived inequities in the cost structure of the denominational health plan administered by the Church Pension Group.

Resolution C008 would have asked the Executive Council to “set a plan to reduce diocesan assessments to 10% by 2033.” Under the current policy, dioceses are supposed to contribute 15 percent of their net income (above an exempt amount) to the Church Center. The “asking” rate was 21 percent as recently as 2010.

Proponents argued that the lower assessment would not reduce the total income of the church, but rather leave more of that income in the hands of the individual dioceses.

“When are we going to realize that the landscape has changed?” asked the Rev. Everett Lees, clergy deputy from Oklahoma. “Over the decades, the Episcopal Church has developed a corporate model of church organization rooted in a top-down approach. It’s not working. We need to try something else.”

Two younger speakers argued that the assessment should be left where it is to benefit future generations. “I am intimately familiar with how the economic choices of the past have disadvantaged our church as we move into the future,” said Evangeline Warren of Ohio, chair of the Young Adult Caucus. “We are still feeling the negative impacts of church budget cuts during the Great Recession, cuts that have decimated our ability to nurture and form, in particular, faithful young adults.”

Because the assessment is based on percentage points applied to income, a reduction from 15 percent to 10 percent would slash the Church Center’s income from assessments by roughly a third.

The diocesan assessment is by far the largest source of income for the Church Center. The budget for the 2025-27 triennium anticipates $94 million income from assessments out of a total budget of $143 million. One deputy noted that if the 10 percent assessment were currently in effect, the budget would have to be cut by about $30 million for the triennium, or $10 million per year.

Staff costs account for just over half the total budget, so such a reduction could not be accomplished without significant layoffs among the 143 full-time equivalent employees of the Church Center.

Testimony alternated between opponents and supporters, and when President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris announced that the time for debate had ended, she said there were 53 deputies in the electronic queue waiting to testify.

Multiple dioceses demanded a vote by orders, a parliamentary maneuver designed to make it harder to pass a resolution, since the clergy and lay orders must agree to constitute a vote in favor. They need not have bothered, as the resolution was rejected by 71 percent of the clergy order and 75 percent of the lay order.

Resolution A101, titled “Revise DHP Pricing Structures for Equitable Access,” was presented as a series of social-justice issues related to the denominational health plan (DHP).

The Rev. David Sibley of Spokane, head of the DHP Task Force, explained that the task force had commissioned an actuarial review of the plan that found “several concerning pieces of unwanted subsidization.”

One problem is caused by the fact that there are a large number of church employees enrolled in high-cost, high-benefit plans, the richest of which is called PPO 100. “If you have a PPO 100 plan, for every $100 that you pay in premiums, an additional $18 is being paid by someone in a low-cost, low-benefit plan, to finance your plan. Beloved, if somebody has a low-cost, low-benefit plan, it is not because they don’t want richer coverage. It is because they cannot afford it.”

Other inequities result from the fact that there is a uniform national rate for the plans, but healthcare costs vary widely from region to region.

“Testimony to the task force and the legislative committee gave loud voice to the gross inequity, systemic racism, and sinful failure of our church to provide access to quality health care for the Navajoland area,” Sibley said. “For years, we have presumed that care provided by the Indian Health Service was sufficient care for our employees, but beloved, it is not, and Navajoland has been telling us this for decades.

He added, “You would not accept IHS care for your family. And for years, we have asked Navajoland not only to accept this care, but to bear the burden of securing additional coverage alone. … This sin must be named, repented of, and repaired at a churchwide level.”

In addition to Navajoland, the dioceses of Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have large Indigenous populations and face similar concerns.

“in South Dakota, the full family plan costs $42,000 a year,” said deputy Lauren Stanley, a priest who serves as canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of South Dakota. “If you are a priest with fewer than five years’ experience, we will not pay you that much in salary, because we cannot afford it.”

The resolution “urges” Church Pension Group to develop and implement a more equitable pricing structure. Sibley explained that for legal reasons, the General Convention cannot “mandate” the development of such a structure — but he said CPG was involved with drafting the resolution and supports its intent.

Such a structure will mean increased premiums for PPO 100 and other high-cost plans, Sibley said. This led one deputy to rise in opposition to the resolution, saying CPG should find some other method of funding a solution.

From the sound of the voice vote, he may have been the only deputy to vote against the resolution, which passed with nearly unanimous support.

Deputies also debated at length over Resolution A002, which proposes five candidate cities for the 2030 General Convention: Kansas City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Several deputies expressed concern that Missouri may not be a safe place for LGBTQ visitors, or for women of child-bearing age, because of restrictive abortion laws. Deputies from the Diocese of Western Missouri rose to support the Kansas City bid.

After discussing several similarly worded amendments, as well as an amendment to an amendment, the deputies passed a version of the resolution urging the church to take these matters into account in selecting the host city. The 2027 General Convention will be held in Phoenix — which also drew some opposition when that selection was made.

Finally, debate on Resolution A079 consumed more than an hour. The resolution has five substantive “resolves,” the first of which designates the Sunday closest to October 10 as Mental Health Awareness Sunday. Some deputies preferred to participate in the national Mental Health Awareness Month in May, while others opposed May because of the timing of Easter. Other considerations also were debated.

The resolution was divided into two parts, to allow deputies the option of voting against certain parts while still expressing support for the importance of mental health awareness. Both parts then were debated separately and passed on voice votes, so the parts of the resolution were recombined.

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