Release Date

February 15, 2011

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Put the Poor First in Federal Budget Decisions Say Catholic Bishops, CRS President

Expressing concern over proposed federal budget cuts in the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution, the heads of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) committees and the president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) sent letters to Congress on February 14, reminding elected officials that "decisions on how to allocate opportunities and burdens in setting budget priorities are more than economic policies — they are significant moral choices."

On the international side, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Ken Hackett, president Catholic Relief Services, said in a joint letter that "[e]specially in a time of austerity and fiscal restraints, the poor have a special moral claim on limited financial resources." According to an analysis by USCCB and CRS, the proposed Continuing Resolution makes over 26% in cuts for poverty-focused international assistance, but only 2.6% in cuts overall.

"Shared sacrifice is one thing; it is another to make disproportionate cuts in programs that serve the most vulnerable," said Bishop Hubbard and Hackett in the letter. "It is morally unacceptable for our nation to balance its budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad."

The Church leaders said international assistance is an essential tool to promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poorer nations, and enhance security throughout the world. The letter warned that many of the proposed funding reductions will disrupt existing programs mid-stream, undermining their impact, the capacity of local partners, and ultimately the moral credibility of United States. The letter also welcomed the restoration of the Mexico City Policy that prohibits funding groups that perform or promote abortion and the denial of funding to the U.N. Population Fund which supports a program of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization in China, but noted that the Continuing Resolution also makes dramatic cuts that are life-threatening.

In a separate letter, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on Congress to place the needs of the poor, the unemployed, the hungry, and other vulnerable people first, in setting priorities in the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Resolution, saying "[a] moral measure of the budget is how it treats "the least of these" at all stages of life from conception until natural death."

Citing the call for major reductions in non-security related programs that serve the poor and vulnerable, Bishop Blaire said, "In a time of economic crisis, the poor and vulnerable are in greater need of assistance, not less. Preserving the national security of the country is without doubt imperative, but we cannot secure the nation while at the same time furthering the insecurity of the poor and vulnerable in our midst."

Bishop Blaire called for "reasonable solutions and strategies to address the federal deficit that will ensure stability and security for future generations" while advocating for "a balanced approach that is just and works to preserve the well-being of poor and vulnerable people." He also said, "decisions should be made that not only reflect a commitment to national and long term fiscal security but demonstrate justice, compassion and fairness. Our plea, then, is simple: Put the poor and vulnerable first as you consider how to spend limited federal resources."

Among the main concerns highlighted by Bishop Blaire in his letter are the proposed cuts to funding for Community Health Centers, affordable housing programs, job training programs, and critical refugee funding. The letter also welcomed the bill's retention of all appropriations riders against abortion funding, and its restoration of a consistent ban on such funding in the District of Columbia.

More than 300 Catholic leaders, in Washington for the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (February 13-16), will take the bishops' message to Capitol Hill on February 15 in a day of visits to their U.S. representatives and senators lifting up the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

Full text of both letters are available on the USCCB website.

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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, please visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org.