With just days left in 2012, advocates for the poor are asking elected officials to avert the fiscal cliff and its potentially devastating effects on the economy.

The federal budget "is a moral document that demonstrates the nation's priorities," said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA on Dec. 4. "Therefore, the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable must be a top priority."

Concerns over the plight of the poor are continuing to be raised as the U.S. approaches the "fiscal cliff," a bundle of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that will kick in at the New Year unless Congress and the White House reach an agreement on a deficit-reduction package by Dec. 31.

If a deal is not made by the end of the year, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire and several other taxes will also increase. At the same time, the "sequester" – a package of automatic cuts to government spending – will go into effect.

Analysts say the result would be freezes in government hiring and contracts, smaller paychecks for workers across the country and a reduction in funding for government programs that many poor families rely upon.   

As the year comes to an end, the nation's leaders say they have had productive talks but remain divided about the best way to reduce the deficit. Suggestions have included raising income taxes on the top percentage of earners, closing tax loopholes, removing deductions and cutting government spending.

President Barack Obama has repeated the call for the wealthiest to pay more in income taxes to raise revenue while keeping tax rates lower among middle-class and low income Americans.

However, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that tax reform aimed at economic growth is a better way to increase revenue. He told Breitbart News that reform efforts involving spending cuts and economic growth should be the focus of debt negotiations.

The congressman – who lost his bid for vice president last month – has also argued at length for entitlement reform, saying that system changes and a transfer of many programs to the state level will allow more people can be helped with less government money.

The long term effects of the fiscal cliff are also a cause of concern. If the country goes over the cliff, it could lead the stock market to plummet, and if not addressed quickly, could lead to a global panic and massive economic collapse.

Polls indicate that Americans favor a compromise on budget reduction methods and are growing increasingly frustrated by what they see as Washington's inability to arrive at a solution.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have also weighed in on the debate, emphasizing the need to consider how different budget plans would affect the most poor and needy.  

In November, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines penned a letter urging Congress to consider the impact of sequestration "on poor and vulnerable persons and families and the programs that help them."

The prelates, who lead the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Committee on International Justice and Peace, respectively, to protect programs that offer housing, food, health and education to those in need.

On Dec. 19, the bishops wrote another letter, calling for similar protection to be extended to tax refunds and credits that help the poor.

"Any deficit reduction agreement or framework for future reform must protect the refundability of low-income tax credits, the charitable deduction, and the millions of people who benefit from them," they said.

The "moral measure" of a budget is "how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated," the bishops stressed.