Massachusetts bishops: Severe state budget cuts must not ignore social needs

.- Massachusetts politicians must remember the vulnerable in their spending cuts planned to remedy a $1.2 billion budget gap, the state’s Catholic bishops said.

“In the devastation of shrinking city and state budgets across the country, all face excruciating choices,” they commented in a Feb. 9 statement. They cautioned against the “temptation” to “turn away from the growing social needs confronting our cities and towns.”

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Bishops George W. Coleman of Fall River, Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield and Robert J. McManus of Springfield signed the statement.

“For many residents--a great many--the reality of the financial crisis, its initial impact and its continuing turmoil, is all too evident,” they said. “From our pastors and most poignantly from our social service agencies, we see and hear of the recession’s impact on families, and especially on the children.”

One food pantry in Boston which normally provides 5,000 pounds of food per month had to distribute 12,000 pounds of food in a single week, the bishops reported. Catholic Charities offices have said that hundreds of families are “doubling-up” in inadequate housing or are squeezing into “already overwhelmed shelters and motel rooms.”

The bishops characterized the budget challenge as one of maximizing the effectiveness of existing programs. Housing, health care, nutrition, education, and employment help ensure a “decent quality of life” and advance the common good.

They urged elected officials and Massachusetts citizens to preserve a special regard for the vulnerable, such as those who must choose between heat and food or shelter and clothing.

Federal government figures put Massachusetts’ unemployment rate at 8.2 percent. Over 12,000 foreclosures in the state were reported in 2010.

“We all face a punishing intersection of rising human needs and declining resources that threatens the dignity of the human person and the stability of family life,” the bishops continued.

They pledged to do everything possible to enable Catholic institutions to continue to “do their best in extending their help to our neighbor in need,” not only to the poor but also to those recently unemployed.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed spending plan would cut 1.8 percent of the state budget, about $570 million. Cuts would affect school health services, services for the mentally ill, a program for low-income pregnant women and an early intervention program for children with delayed development.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said that the administration is doing its best to save money without hurting services, but painful cuts are probable because of a loss of stimulus money and a diminished rainy day fund.

“There’s no doubt that poor people and vulnerable populations are going to be impacted by this budget and this economy, and we’re trying to do our part,” he told the Boston Globe. “I applaud the bishops for their willingness to try to do more; the governor and I have said we need individuals, businesses, and faith communities to step up and fill this gap, because government cannot do it alone.”

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