.- If members of Congress do not come to an agreement on a debt reduction proposal, the resulting spending cuts may threaten the lives of those in poverty, cautioned Catholic Relief Services.
Members of Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of Catholic Relief Services, agreed with conclusions by several U.S. bishops that while “Congress has a responsibility to reduce federal deficits and improve our fiscal health,” it should “do so in ways that give moral priority to programs that help people living in poverty, both at home and abroad.”
The organization warned that there is an “urgent need to protect human life and dignity around the world” that current economic proposals neglect.
In a Feb. 15 web chat, the group’s members observed that current proposed budget cuts threaten the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, both in the United States and around the world.
If Congress does not pass a deficit-reduction plan by the end of the month, a “sequester,” or package of automatic cuts to government spending, will be triggered.
Kathy Saile, director of domestic social development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained that when these budget cuts were proposed in 2011, they were designed “to be very bad” and harsh so that the government would be “forced to come to a decision” and compromise on the budget.
While social security and “safety net programs” are exempt from the sequestration, many other government programs, including those that provide a ‘circle of protection’ around domestic antipoverty and international aid efforts, are at risk, said members of Catholic Relief Services during their presentation.
The organization explained that across-the-board cuts would take money from programs that help people meet their basic needs, potentially endangering lives.
According to Catholic Relief Services, the total amount of food provided by charities throughout the U.S. amounts to only six percent of the food that poor people receive from federal programs.
To contextualize the scope of the budget cuts, Saile estimated that 11,700 individuals in New Jersey and 20,700 people in Georgia alone could lose benefits from the federally-sponsored Women, Infants and Children program.
Myron Meche, director of Catholic Relief Services’ legislative affairs office, confirmed the potentially dire consequences of the cuts.
“Without government programs,” he said, “nearly twice as many US citizens would have been living in poverty” in 2010.
Meche explained that the proposed budget cuts would jeopardize the Church’s mission of “serving the poorest of the poor” abroad as well. He explained that while “just over one-half percent of the federal budget” is spent on “poverty focused international assistance,” this funding is very effective in reducing poverty around the globe.
Government funds, he explained, have helped to cut childhood deaths by one-third in the last 20 years, and government-sponsored programs have halved the number of people “living on less than $1.25 a day” in the past 25 years.
In addition, such programs have fed 5 million school children, and over 3 million individuals have been “saved thanks to immunization programs” sponsored with U.S. government funding.
Meche said that Catholics ought to aim for “giving priority to programs that serve the poorest people in the poorest places on earth” and added that the “federal government is a vital partner in that work, and the federal budget is an important tool.”
Catholics Confronting Global Poverty suggested that Catholics approach their members of Congress and ask them to “replace sequestration with a balanced and thoughtful alternative that eliminates unnecessary spending, addresses the long-term costs of health care, and raises adequate revenues.”
They also cautioned against inserting partisan politics, particularly those surrounding same-sex partnership, into the budget discussions, advocating the use of “current family-based” wording on immigration and other reforms.
Fr. Tim Graffe of the Newark Diocese’s office of human concerns explained that Catholics have a unique ability to speak to Congress and others on this issue because “our advocacy comes out of our faith and our care for the poor.”
“We’re able to be the voice of the poor,” Fr. Graffe explained, “and others who may not have another voice but our own.”