.- The U.S. bishops voiced concerns that proposed budget cuts for the 2013 fiscal year could adversely impact the most vulnerable members of society.
In an April 16 letter, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged leaders of the House Agriculture Committee to resist “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs.”
He said that reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the modern federal food stamp program, “are unjustified and wrong.”
The bishop argued that the program “helps feed millions of households,” most of which include a child, senior or disabled individual.
In a time of “economic turmoil and growing poverty,” Congress should not cut an “effective and efficient anti-hunger program that helps people live in dignity,” he said.
“If savings need to be achieved, cuts to agricultural subsidies and direct payments should be considered before cutting anti-hunger programs that help feed poor and vulnerable people.”
The letter was sent several weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Ryan has said that his budget is guided by Catholic principles and that it allows for the common good to be advanced not only through government but through civic society. He also argued that the poor are hurt by extreme levels of debt more than they are by budget reductions.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) – who is also Catholic – said that in the broader picture, the cuts are necessary to prevent a financial crisis that would completely wipe out the critical aid programs.
However, Bishop Blaire said that the budget falls short of the moral criteria laid out by the bishops.
In recent months, the U.S. bishops have offered principles for evaluating budget decisions, which include the promotion of the common good and the protection of human life and dignity, as well as consideration for the needs of the poor and homeless.
Leaders of the U.S. bishops have called for a “circle of protection” to be maintained around the poor and vulnerable during budget debates, preventing critical services from being slashed.
Bishop Blaire has previously cautioned against cutting funding for housing assistance programs.
In a separate letter to the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, he also voiced opposition to “unfair proposals” that would “exclude children of hard-working, immigrant families” from the Child Tax Credit.
He said that the bishops’ conference supports the tax credit program as an effective anti-poverty program that is both “pro-work” and “pro-family.”