Catholic Charities USA urges Congress to address poverty

.- In its ongoing effort to reduce the U.S. poverty rate to half by 2020, Catholic Charities USA took its Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America directly to Congress yesterday. According to the group, more than 37 million Americans live in poverty today.

Catholic Charities organized a briefing on the struggles of millions Americans who experience hunger, a testimony before a House Ways and Means subcommittee on poverty, and visits to Hill offices by local Catholic Charities agency leaders.

The concentrated day-long effort by Catholic Charities USA to focus attention on the need for action on poverty and hunger included a full-page ad in Congress’s, “Roll Call” and a virtual march on Washington in which people from around the country contacted their Members of Congress.

The four main areas of the Campaign are: improving food and nutrition programs, increasing access to health care, enabling more people to get affordable housing, and promoting greater economic security for the poor and vulnerable through programs that support work and strengthen families.

"The moral test of society is how it ensures the needs of the most vulnerable, including those unable to provide adequate food to themselves and their families," said Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "It is unacceptable that in a nation as bountiful as ours that children, working adults, and senior citizens experience food shortages that puts their physical, mental, and developmental health at risk.”

The priest said Catholic Charities agencies have witnessed an increase in problems related to hunger and food shortage. Forty-four percent of the assistance provided by Catholic Charities agencies across the country is regarding food and nutrition.

In 2005, Catholic Charities agencies nationwide served more than 5 million people through their various food service programs. Those served in Catholic Charities soup kitchens have increased 27 percent since 2001, while clients served by food banks increased by almost 15 percent, the agency reported.

The need for nutrition assistance across the country continues to rise, especially among low-income working families. For example, as many as 40 percent of the working poor must turn to emergency food services, and 29 percent of food stamp recipients are in families where at least one person works.

Children and elderly are also impacted. Nearly 80 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and three in four seniors have difficulty meeting their daily food needs.

Fr. Snyder said Catholic Charities is working to convince federal lawmakers to revise and improve nutrition programs.

Following the hunger briefing, Fr. Snyder testified at a hearing conducted by the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support on proposals to reducing poverty.

"The many misconceptions about the nature of poverty in the United States reinforce the commonly held view that poverty is due to failures and deficiencies of individuals, rather than the failures of structures that we put in place through the economic and political choices we make as a nation," he said. "While it is true that individual choices and behaviors do influence one's chances of living in poverty, these individual behaviors are frequently outweighed by the structures and policies that shape the opportunities of people who are poor."

Fr. Snyder said government programs to help those living in poverty must be strengthened. He called on Congress and the Administration to give a higher priority to the needs of the most vulnerable when making decisions about policies and allocation of federal money.

Specifically, he encouraged members of the committee to support policies that:
•    improve the TANF program to create more opportunities for low-income families
•    strengthen the federal commitment to children in the child welfare system
•    strengthen two-parent families, by creating more comprehensive policies to support low-income fathers
•    improve the child care program
•    index the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation
•    bolster unemployment insurance to benefit more low-income workers
•    promote long-term economic security and asset building.

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