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Bishops: ‘Moral measure’ of U.S. budget is its help for poor, hungry

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WASHINGTON — Congress should base all federal budget decisions on how they provide for those in need, whether they protect or threaten human life and dignity, and if they promote the common good of “workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times,” said the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees in a letter to Congress.

“In the past year, Congress and the administration have taken significant action to reduce the federal deficit, while attempting to protect programs that serve poor and vulnerable people,” said Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.

The letter was dated March 6 and released March 7.

Bishop Blaire is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Bishop Pates is chairman of their Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Congress will continue to face difficult choices about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs,” the bishops said. “We fear the pressure to cut vital programs that protect the lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable will increase. As Catholic bishops, we have tried to remind Congress that these choices are economic, political, and moral.”

The bishops said they joined other Christian leaders in calling for a “circle of protection” around the poor and vulnerable, both “at home and abroad,” as members of Congress craft and debate a budget resolution and spending bills for the next fiscal year.

The bishops said access to “affordable, life-affirming health care that respects religious freedom” is an urgent national priority and warned against shifting rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities and the poor.

They voiced support for programs that help low-income people such as Pell grants, offered to needy college students to defray tuition expenses at the college of their choice, and improved workforce training and development. They also pushed for efforts to restore funding cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and to make permanent an expansion of low-income tax credits.

Bishops Blaire and Pate said they opposed steps that negatively impact poor families such as increasing the minimum rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance and a proposal to eliminate funding for a school voucher program called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The bishops also made the case for protecting programs that help the poor internationally.

“As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad,” they said. “We help poor families rise above crushing poverty, resettle refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and reach out to communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines,” the bishops wrote.

They noted that the “moral measure of this budget debate” is not about political parties or prevailing powerful interests “but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated.”

“Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources,” they said.