Committee 12: Agencies & boards

boards

Today Resolutionapalooza continues with the committee on agencies & boards. Long-term General Convention geeks will know that Episcopal Church governance includes CCABs: committees, commissions, agencies, and boards. Agencies include entities such as the Church Pension Group and Forward Movement (my employer), and other free-standing organizations that are accountable in some way to the Episcopal Church. Boards would include things like Episcopal Relief & Development and the General Board of Examining Chaplains. Normally, this legislative committee is a sleepy backwater, blissfully removed from the drama of General Convention. Not so this time!

This committee has several important resolutions to improve the health insurance plan of the Episcopal Church, as well as other resolutions on lay employee and clergy compensation.

You can — and should — read reports from agencies and boards in the 2024 Blue Book. Look under the heading “agencies and boards reporting to the General Convention.” When CCABs submit resolutions, they are A resolutions. (B is for bishops, C or for dioceses or provinces, and D is for deputies.)

As an aside, Forward Movement does not receive or request money from the General Convention budget, nor did we submit any resolutions for consideration. You’re welcome.

Let’s get to the resolutions. You won’t be board bored!

 

A006 Feasibility Study of a Fund to Pay Congregations’ Future Benefit Obligations. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

This resolution, referred from the last General Convention, would set in motion a feasibility study “of the steps, resources, and time necessary to establish a fund to pay some or all of the pension and health plan obligations of clergy and lay professionals deploying to historically non-white and small congregations, particularly to congregations whose economic viability has likely been impaired by historic discrimination.” In other words, we want to find out if it’s possible to create a fund to cover some or all of the expenses of clergy pension and benefits in historically non-white and smaller congregations. This study sounds like a good idea. The data should be readily available to CPG and Episcopal Church staff, so I’m not sure we’ll need an outside consultant and the expenditure of $20,000. So let’s simplify this and reduce expense if possible, but I’m all for gathering the data to see if we can correct historic imbalances and make our church stronger.

 

A007 Invitation to CPF to Forecast Effects of Reduced Pension Assessment Obligations on Clergy Deployment and on Benefit Levels. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

Also referred from the last General Convention, this resolution asks for a study of the effects of lowering clergy pension assessments from the current 18% to 15%. The study would consider effects such as recruitment, retention, and benefits for clergy. Again, not a bad idea to gather the data. Staff from the Episcopal Church and CPG should have this data; we shouldn’t need an outside consultant or an expense of $25,000.

 

A008 Study of Benefit Obligation Effects on Clergy and Lay Professional Deployment. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

This resolution, yet again referred forward from 2022, asks for yet another study. This one would look at “the extent to which the obligation to pay pension and health plan contributions for clergy and lay professionals at the current contribution rates discourages deployment of clergy and lay professionals to historically non-white and small congregations, as compared to the statistical average congregation in The Episcopal Church.” Sure, it’s good to have data. Again, I don’t think we need a consultant or a big expense. CPG and Episcopal Church staff can crank this out with a little work, I’m sure.

 

A016 Reaffirm and Commit to the Goal of a Permanent Location of an Archives for the Episcopal Church. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution also comes from 2022, and it basically says the General Convention wants the Episcopal Church’s archives to have a permanent home. I don’t think anyone wants otherwise? This resolution also does a lot of reaffirming and recognizing. A lot has happened since 2022, and my understanding from a recent ENS article is that the archives has found a plan to establish a permanent home. So we don’t need to enact this. It’s already happening. If there weren’t an immediate plan, we don’t need General Convention to say obvious things like “the archives should be settled permanently” and “the archives should probably use a filing system so they can find stuff.”

 

A100 Adopt Cost Controls in Denominational Health Plan. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

In 2009, the so-called Denominational Health Plan was created by General Convention. Since then it’s been tweaked a bit, but the basics have stayed in place. Clergy and lay employees in the US (the DHP is really a Domestic Health Plan, since it doesn’t cover clergy or lay employees outside the US) who are eligible are enrolled in one of the offered plans. There is a range of offerings, from high-deductible, low-cost plans to expensive preferred provider 0% copay plans. In setting up the plan, the goal was to keep costs as low as possible for plan participants and to offer benefits and costs that were broadly similar across the US.

Recent studies uncovered for all to see some notable subsidization. Those who choose lower-cost plans are paying more than the actual cost of their plans to provide a subsidy to those who choose high-cost plans, which are delivered below actual cost. This is complex issue, and you should read the task force report, which thoroughly explains all this in an accessible way. But the essence of this resolution is to remove subsidization by plan level: each plan would be delivered at its actual cost. So high-benefit plans will cost around 20% more after we pass this. And some of the lower-cost plans will be around 20% cheaper when this goes into effect. Plan participants will still be able to choose; if your situation means you really want the fancy plan, you and your employer can agree to do that. On a related note, it is permissible for employers to limit plan selection. So a local church could decide to offer only 20% copay plans; the net effect could save many congregations and dioceses LOTS of money.

All that is good. I hope we pass this plan, which simply rationalizes and aligns costs and prices.

My only concern is that the resolution also asks that the Episcopal Church “offer health insurance benefit offerings in the Episcopal Church Medical Trust comparable to those offered by the benefit agencies of similar denominations.” Firstly, if we are passing actual costs on to participants, there’s no reason not to offer fancy plans to those who want to pay that cost. But secondly, I’m not sure it’s relevant whether Episcopal Church clergy and lay workers have similar health insurance plans to Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. If are ARE going to look at health insurance plans of Episcopal folks vs. others, then we should also, at some future date, compare seminary costs, stipends, other benefits, workload, and health plans. In other words, if we’re going to see if apples and oranges are comparable, we need to look at the whole fruit, not just the stems.

But the core of this resolution is solid. We need to do this. It will reduce costs for many congregations and dioceses.

 

A101 Revise DHP Pricing Structures for Equitable Access. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

When the (so-called) Denominational Health Plan was set up, we essentially excluded the Navajoland area mission. In a somewhat shocking manifestation of injustice, our church’s plan for those serving in Navajoland was to send them to the US government’s Indian Health Service rather than to the providers of their church through the DHP. This resolution fixes that. It’s overdue.

Other plan participants will subsidize costs for Navajoland. This makes perfect sense: Navajoland is an area with a great deal of economic poverty; by spreading their costs across other plan participants in less poor areas, we can, as a church, shoulder some of the burden of their costs.

This resolution also looks at regional costs and the ability to pay when setting prices everywhere. This means that an expensive place with abundant resources might pay more than, say, an expensive place with few resources. I’m doing my best to get all this right, while simplifying so that I don’t have to write a whole book about health insurance premiums. But places such as Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota will be subsidized deliberately in the new scheme. That’s fine, and the formula is oriented in a far way as I understand it. Places with few resources are helped out by places with abundant resources. That sounds like church to me.

But we do need to repent of the racism that led to the situation in Navajoland in the first place. I sincerely hope someone will untangle how this managed to happen and ensure that we don’t do something like this in the future — and ensure that we don’t have other exclusions in our system of care at present.

 

A102 Churchwide Education Efforts to Control Healthcare Costs. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

Regular Resolutionpalooza readers will know I don’t usually like resolutions that merely “urge” things. But most rules have an exception, and this is one. This resolution would urge CPG to do some education work in an effort to reduce health insurance plan costs. Among other things, the education efforts would include Medicare options for employees over 65, the number of plans offered, and the use of Consumer Directed Health Plans. I’d like to live in a world where this resolution could have been an email, but it seems that CPG often needs a legislative mandate to actively care for those it serves. So here we are. Let’s do some more educating by passing this resolution.

 

A134 Establishing a Task Force for the Funding and Study of Compensation and Benefits for Deacons and Non-Stipendiary Priests. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Let us first note the Orwellian aspect of compensating non-stipendiary people. Are we compensating people for work? Or are we dealing with volunteers? Non-stipendiary means unpaid, so I’m not sure why we are crossing these streams. That’s completely different from part-time paid folks (who are stipendiary). If we are limiting our focus on deacons, I’m not sure what there is to study. In some dioceses, all deacons are unpaid. In other dioceses, deacons can work up to full-time for the church. We wouldn’t need a $60,000 study to sort that out. By the way, the resolution asks for the findings to be presented at the 81st General Convention. That’s going to be an aggressively fast timeline!

But seriously, if the intention here is to focus on deacons, let’s say that. And I think the explanation and resolution would need to unpack a little more about what problem we are trying to solve. Based on what’s here, I don’t see the need for a $60,000 task force.

 

A135 Compensation for Non-stipendiary Clergy. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

There are so many problems with this resolution, which would require that unpaid clergy be paid. See notes about Orwellian juxtaposition, above. This resolution seeks a minimum $25/month payment for “non-stipendiary” clergy. First of all, that may cause problems with minimum wage laws in some jurisdictions of the Episcopal Church, which spans well over a dozen countries. Second, in our poorer nations, $25/month is not a token sum. The argument in favor of doing this is that non-stipendiary clergy currently lack access to some CPG offerings, such as CREDO, access to financial planning, disability benefits, and mental health resources. I’m no expert in all those categories, but I know a little about CREDO. It’s designed from the ground up for full-time clergy who might risk burnout and such. That’s just not relevant to the life situation of many of the folks who would be getting their $25/month. So maybe we just need to design programs, especially for non-stipendiary clergy and figure out how to pay for them without incurring wage obligations and so on.

By the way, if there’s an issue with non-stipendiary clergy being exploited by entities who could afford to pay, then we need to deal with that as a justice issue. No need to create a complicated bureaucracy to pay $25/month for benefits that may not be helpful, anyway.

Oh, and this resolution goes about things the wrong way anyhow; most likely this would require a canonical mandate, not a General Convention directive.

 

A138 Task Force on Parity and Equity of Lay Compensation and Benefits. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Our church is notorious for treating lay employees unfairly compared with the treatment of clergy. We need to get better at this. It leads to lay folks having a lousy work experience. It manifests injustice. And it compromises our witness in all things. So let’s fix that.

This resolution asks for a task force to study lay employee and clergy compensation and benefits. I would ordinarily be in favor of gathering this data, but we just did this. Resolution 2018-A037 studied the same thing, and you can read the report right now. So this already exists. No need for a $40,000 task force to repeat this work. And the proposer of this resolution (Executive Council) did not include an explanation, so we have no way of knowing if there is some reason to suspect a change in the landscape since 2018. (NOTE to resolution proposers: provide an explanation, because we can’t read your mind!)

One thing we could do is canonically require all Episcopal organizations to offer the same benefits to lay employees and clergy, same policies, same health plans, same sabbatical provision, and so on. It seems so simple, and yet many places have a tiered system in which clergy have a much better situation. Let’s fix that! But this resolution will not move the needle where it counts.

 

C014 A Resolution to Enhance Access to the Denominational Health Plan. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

This resolution asks CPG to open access to the DHP to any church employee scheduled to work 500 hours or more per year, as long as they self-pay. So a 10/hour week sexton could choose to opt in to our DHP if they paid the full cost of their plan. I’m not sure anyone working hours like this is going to want to pay $35,000 for a family health plan, but maybe? Before we flip the switch though, we need to do some work. We need to determine if this is legal and if there are other legal consequences or side effects from doing this in states of the US. And we need to understand what impact this might have on the rest of DHP participants. Will it change the pool to increase (or decrease) costs? So let’s figure out if this is a good idea, and if so, let’s do it. I think we could ask CPG working with Episcopal Church staff to figure this out and report back.

 

D010 The Creation of a Clergy Compensation Contribution Fund. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

If passed, this resolution would ask for a study to see if there are currently funds available to the Episcopal Church that could offset half the cost of the clergy pension assessment in certain congregations. As previous resolutions have indicated, the burden of clergy compensation and benefits is a real challenge for many historically non-white and some smaller churches, who may be economically disadvantaged. The resolution asks Episcopal Church to get this done in consultation with CPG. My only suggestion is to clarify this a bit to offer some guidance on where to look for these funds and on how such a fund could be used. There’s rarely a downside to reviewing assets to see if they are being used in the best way possible.

 

D018 Task Force on Lay Pension Parity. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

As I write in the commentary for A138, we’ve recently done this work. There’s no reason to do it again so soon, at least none that is offered in the explanation.

2 Responses

  1. Geoff M. says:

    Just to be clear, do you mean there are dioceses in the Episcopal Church where deacons are prohibited from holding church employment? In Canada, all deacons are unpaid qua deacons but there’s no way to prevent anyone from hiring one as a diocesan/national church staff member, seminary administrator/faculty member, parish music director, or what have you. (I suppose a bishop could try to require a deacon not to accept a certain day job, but I’m not sure it would fly as a “lawful admonition”).

    • Scott Gunn says:

      My understanding (could be wrong) is that some bishops have said that deacons cannot be paid for work in the church. But, again, this is my possibly flawed understanding. Bishops say all sorts of things, so one should not be surprised at what one hears them say!

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