The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocates economic and social justice in Virginia’s policies and practices through education, prayer and action.
Founded in 1982, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is the advocacy voice for the faith community in Virginia. The organization has focused primarily on issues of economic and racial justice.
The organization’s grassroots work has primarily been through local chapters, although the organization is deepening its legislative district organizing as well as its chapter work. VICPP is well respected and well known statewide as the largest faith-based economic and social justice organization.
VICPP is an advocacy organization, not a service one. The organization this year had advocated policy positions impacting up to 400,000 on Medicaid Expansion and 900,000 on drivers licenses. We have nearly 10,000 names in our database, including hundreds of clergy, and seven chapters/affiliates – with at least two more organizing – relationships with almost all the judicatory leaders in the state, and activists in every state House and Senate district.
Historically, VICPP has been a leader on poverty issues, working on such issues as expanding school breakfast programs, reducing predatory lending, creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit and pushing for Medicaid expansion. The organization is religiously, racially and ethnically diverse. Its board reflects the religious and racial diversity of the Commonwealth. Several years ago, when some in the legislature tried to eliminate all funding for the Department of Labor and Industries (the state labor agency), VICPP worked in coalition to restore its funding.
VICPP has regularly supported efforts to raise the minimum wage, although without much success in Virginia. The organization has done some advocacy on worker rights, but with the hiring of Kim Bobo as the organization’s new director in 2016, a leading national expert on wage theft, the organization has dramatically strengthened its capacity to work on worker issues. Board and chapter leaders, at their 2016 retreat, decided to make wage theft and wage justice one of the organization’s top priorities. Since that decision, VICPP has convened a statewide Wage Theft Taskforce – composed of leaders from worker centers, labor, employee-side law firms, academia and other worker advocates – to help guide the work and build the base of interest and support for stopping and deterring wage theft around the state
During the most recent (2017) General Assembly session, we did have several successes. Our VICPP volunteers:
stopped the cutting of TANF benefits for low-income families. Proposals would have reduced from 24 to 12 months the length of time a family could receive public assistance and reduced from 60 to 24 months the total amount of support families could receive in their lifetime. This was a mean-spirited bill and we stopped it on the floor.
helped restore driver’s licenses to those who owe court fines and fees by leading the advocacy for restoring driver’s licenses in both the House and Senate. Bills have passed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, so we are hopeful a final bill will emerge and pass.
opposed and helped stop some of the worst of the anti-immigrant bills. There were quite a few anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills. VICPP was a vocal presence against these bills and in favor of making Virginia a more welcoming place.
supported expanding mental health and substance abuse services in Virginia. We joined partner organizations in expanding resources in the state for mental health and substance abuse services.
The Center’s first meeting took place in October 1982 in the Franklin Street headquarters of the Greater Richmond YWCA. That occasion was the culminating milestone of about a year of planning by a group of Virginia Christians, Jews and Muslims.
A number of those involved had been meeting together informally for several years in several areas surrounding human needs public policy. That broadening of cooperation came about with strong support from Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He had often expressed quietly a wish for the Diocese to be in member of the Virginia Council of Churches. But he wanted it to be a more inclusive body. In the meantime, he encouraged, hosted and participated in a sequence of informal gatherings directed at discussing and developing coordinated plans for effective education and advocacy for criminal justice issues and other human needs. The bishop and a number of new interfaith partners joined informally in conversations that became part of a broader vision and a richer experience of colleagueship. Those get-togethers multiplied and came to be identified for the next meeting with euphemistic acronyms like ESCA (Ecumenical Social Concerns) and GIGI (Government Interaction Group, Interfaith). At that time, the most conspicuous ecumenical organization for statewide cooperation was the Council of Churches, in which were participating about a dozen of the state Protestant denominational groups and the Greek Orthodox Church.
In the Fall of 1981, the Governing Assembly of the Virginia Council of Churches had voted by a narrow margin not to adopt a proposal by its committee on Church and Society that would have the Council establish an interfaith office on governmental affairs. That rejection resulted in sharp polarization within the leadership of VCC and an impasse for a time in VCC’s implementing a more inclusive base for public policy involvement. It would be a matter of several years and multiple changes within both the Council and VICPP before a new and very positive time of cooperation occurred strong residual friendships and efforts at reconciliation continued and expanded. In time, VICPP and VCC became engaged in strong cooperation.
Presbyterian pastor the Rev. James A. Payne was the founding director of the Center. On his retirement in 1990, the Center underwent a time of transition with executive leadership from several directors, including the Rev. Dr. C. Dow Chamberlain, a United Methodist minister. The Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe, an Episcopal priest who had been an active member of the VICPP organizing body, returned from serving a pastorate in Delaware, rejoined the organization and provided strong leadership in leading VICPP to a higher level of effective service in behalf of the interfaith community. Lowe served from 1997-2004, when the Rev. C. Douglas Smith took over as director, serving in the position for eight years. (Smith also spearheaded the purchase and green renovation of a historic 19th century building in Shockoe Bottom that now serves as VICPP’s home.) Mr. Marco Grimaldo served as director from February 2012 to April 2015. Before and after Grimaldo, the Rev. Charles Swadley led the Center during two stints as interim director. Ms. Kim Bobo was hired as Executive Director in February 2016.