Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops critiqued federal budget proposals for their suggested cuts to social aid programs, which they said would harm the poor and vulnerable.

“The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated,” said two bishops who lead conference committees on domestic and international justice.

“Their voices are too often missing, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.”

Protect Poor And Vulnerable As Debate On Budget Continues

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif. and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa recently sent letters to every member of Congress on the current budget debate.

The bishops said that the reduction of unsustainable future deficits must be pursued “in ways that protect poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.” They said they are “profoundly concerned” that the budget for the coming year maintain current government commitments to the poor.

Their March 18 letter comes as U.S. lawmakers vote on a short-term spending bill to continue government funding as debate continues over various budget proposals.

Democratic leaders have offered proposals to build the economy through new government spending on job training and economic stimulus measures, while closing loopholes to increase tax revenue. They have argued against reducing the deficit through significant spending cuts to social aid programs.

Top Republicans have countered that the cuts to spending in their plan – including spending on social aid programs – are justified because the plan would balance the budget and boost the economy, resulting in greater job creation and reducing the need for people to participate in aid programs. They also contend that many social aid programs can be run effectively on less money by transferring authority from the federal to state level or instating other reform measures.

Bishops Blaire and Pates said that as budget choices are made, each decision should be assessed by “whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity” and by its effect on “the least of these,” such as the hungry, the homeless, and the unemployed.

They repeated their call for a “circle of protection” around the poor and vulnerable.

The bishops argued that “the dramatic cuts envisioned in the House Budget resolution” proposed by Republicans will have “a disproportionate impact on vulnerable families.” They noted that the resolution calls for spending cuts of “$800 billion over ten years,” a figure that they called “very concerning” because of the effect it would have on the poor.

“The Senate proposal,” the bishops continued, “does not include enough detail to assess the impact of potential reductions in mandatory spending, such as in health and nutrition programs.”

“However, Congress should keep to the commitment in the proposal to protect beneficiaries from any harm in reducing spending or reforming these programs.”

Bishops Blaire and Pates supported the preservation of programs they said help the poor and vulnerable, including the food stamps program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They also favored poverty-focused international aid and funding for a scholarship program in the District of Columbia.

They praised funding of emergency food and shelter programs, workforce training and development, affordable housing and school nutrition programs. They also supported Pell grants for education and child tax credits for low-income people.

Budget cuts cannot focus on “disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons” but instead require “shared sacrifice” through raising revenues, eliminating unnecessary military spending and other spending while addressing the costs of health insurance and retirement programs.

The bishops pledged cooperation with both political parties to secure a budget that reduces deficits, protects the poor and vulnerable and advances the common good.

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