By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed its concerns over proposed cuts in federal programs serving the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people in a series of letters to congressional leaders since April 4 as debate over the fiscal year 2013 budget begins.
The letters from Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, urge Congress to draw a “circle of protection” around programs that serve “the least among us.”
The letters were sent after the House of Representatives adopted on March 27 a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, with a $600 billion deficit, written by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The plan calls for
massive spending cuts in nonmilitary programs, turning Medicaid into a block grant program administered by the states, reshaping Medicare over the next decade, and simplifying the tax code by closing loopholes and lowering individual and corporate tax rates.
A common message in the letters focuses on the necessity of “shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues,” the elimination of unnecessary military and other spending and fairly addressing long-term costs associated with health insurance and retirement costs.
In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee, Bishop Blaire said the House-passed budget “fails to meet these moral criteria.”
A summary of each letter follows.
• April 4 to the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies:
As one of the largest private providers of housing services for poor and vulnerable people, the Catholic community sees a growing need for assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cutting funds for housing programs “could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.”
The bishops urge the leaders to protect funding for housing for the elderly, people with disabilities, and people with AIDS; Veterans Affairs-supported housing; McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act programs; Section 8 rental assistance; and other programs that ensure safe and affordable housing for vulnerable Americans.
The bishops also repeated their concern about proposals to increase the minimum amount of rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance, saying very low-income families would be harmed, especially at a time when wages are stagnant and food and gas prices are rising.
• April 16 to the House Agriculture Committee:
A letter signed by Bishop Blaire urged the committee to “resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs.”
Acknowledging that the committee is under instruction to cut $33.2 billion from agricultural programs, the USCCB urged Congress to “protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises.”
The letter pointed particularly to proposed cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and how such cuts will harm hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find work.
“These cuts are unjustified and wrong. If cuts are necessary, the committee should first look towards reducing and targeting commodity and subsidy programs that disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness,” Bishop Blaire wrote.
• April 16 to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies:
Support for 10 domestic and international food and nutrition programs that impact the lives of people worldwide was outlined in a two-page letter.
“Adequate nutrition is essential to protect human life and dignity. We urge support for just and sufficient funding for agriculture policies that serve hungry, poor and vulnerable people while promoting good stewardship of the land and natural resources,” the bishops said.
They opposed cuts in domestic programs such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program; the Emergency Food Assistance Program for food storage and distribution grants in local communities; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Commodity Supplemental Food Program serving low-income seniors, pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants and children; Conservation Stewardship Program that helps farmers conserve and care for farmland; and Value Added Producer Grants that help farmers and ranchers develop new farm and food-related businesses to increase rural economic opportunity.
International programs cited as vital and undeserving of funding cuts include Title II Food Aid; the “safe box” provision to help chronically hungry communities build lasting agricultural capacity that minimizes the impact of severe weather and other catastrophes; and Local and Regional Procurement of food commodities to reduce food assistance costs and shorten delivery times. The bishops also called for increasing the amount of cash resources in the Title II program for nutrition education and other agricultural programs that increase the quality and amount of food that poor farmers produce.
• April 17 to the House Ways and Means Committee:
Bishop Blaire renewed the USCCB’s “strong opposition to unfair proposals that would alter the child tax credit to exclude children of hard-working immigrant families.”
The bishops have been longtime supporters of the credit because of its pro-work and pro-family orientation and for being “one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in our nation.” In 2009 2.3 million people, including 1.3 million children, were kept out of poverty by the credit. Denying the credit to children of immigrants, the majority of whom are American citizens, would harm vulnerable children, increase poverty and “would not advance the common good,” the letter said.
“To exclude these children who are American citizens from the child tax credit is unjust and wrong. We urge you to actively and publicly oppose such measures.”