Catholic leaders urge Senate to boost development, humanitarian aid

.- The United States bishops and their overseas relief organization are urging the US Senate to offer “active support for essential funding for urgent humanitarian and development activities.”

A letter, dated Sept. 5, was sent to senators as they consider the State/Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for 2008.

In it, Bishop Thomas Wenski and Ken Hackett said a priority should be adequate funding for the Millennium Challenge Account/Corporation (MCA). Bishop Wenski is chair of the U.S. bishops’ International Policy Committee. Hacket is president of Catholic Relief Services.

The MCA was designed to help vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa, make key reforms that include improved governance, anti-corruption measures, expanded rights for underrepresented groups such as women and rural landholders, and commitments to health and sanitation, Bishop Wenski and Hackett stated.

They noted that the full Senate committee mark reduces MCA funding to $1.2 billion, far below the president’s request of $3 billion and $700 million below the committee’s mark from last year.

“We urge Senate leaders to fund the MCC at a minimum of $1.8 billion, the level contained in the Fiscal Year 2008 House bill,” they wrote. “Unless sufficient funds are provided for the MCA, important reforms may lose momentum in bringing meaningful development to some of our poorest brothers and sisters.”

They also urged the Senate to reinstate funding designated in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in the form of abstinence programs.

Bishop Wenski and Hackett also urged restoration of a policy “that prohibits support for organizations that support or help manage programs using coerced abortion and sterilization.”

“The persistence of abject hunger, poverty, and disease in God’s world is a significant moral challenge,” they wrote. “Reliable programs that have proven results in combating or reducing poverty and disease deserve the full support of the U.S. Congress.”

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