By Barb Arland-Fye
Short-term funding extensions keep the federal government from having to shut down, but these extensions delay difficult decisions our nation must make concerning our moral choices in a challenged economy.
Last week, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers introduced a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at current rates until April 8, while cutting $6 billion in spending, according to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations. It is the second such extension to prevent a government shutdown while Congress bickers over a long-term plan to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year. (On March 2, President Obama signed into law a short-term spending bill to keep the government operational through March 18.)
The vast majority of proposed funding cuts come from the non-defense, discretionary portion of the budget, which accounts for about 12 percent of the budget. These “discretionary” funds cover social welfare, education and other anti-poverty funding.
Setting budget priorities involves “significant moral choices,” Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., wrote in a March 4 letter to the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“In a time of economic crisis, poor and vulnerable people are in greater need of assistance, not less,” said Bishop Blaire, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “Preserving national security is imperative and we need to secure our nation without worsening the insecurity of poor and vulnerable people in our midst.”
The bishop said that a balanced approach to the budget calls for shared sacrifice by all and must protect human life as a first requirement. The bishop cited examples of funding cuts that would have devastating impacts on the poor and vulnerable:
• A proposed $1.3 billion cut to Community Health Centers that would “deny health care to nearly 11 million poor and vulnerable people including mothers and children at risk.”
• A $2.3 billion reduction to affordable housing programs that “is not justifiable in light of the continuing housing crisis for low-and-moderate-income families.”
• A $1.75 billion cut in job training programs that would “prolong the economic pain of those seeking adequate training to re-enter the job market.”
• Proposed cuts in federal education programs that would impact assistance to low-income students and students with disabilities.
• A $77 million cut for domestic refugee resettlement programs and an $827 million cut in refugee admissions and overseas refugee assistance programs.
In an “Action Alert” on its website (www.crs.org), Catholic Relief Services urges people to write to their U.S. senators and representatives to reconsider budget priorities.
“Fiscal responsibility is important, but it requires shared sacrifice, not disproportionate cuts in programs that serve poor persons. It is morally unacceptable for our nation to balance its budget on the backs of poor people at home and abroad,” CRS said.
That message is especially timely in the aftermath of the colossal earthquake and nuclear crisis that have crippled Japan, and in the struggles of other nations that have endured natural disasters, especially the Haitians who continue to have enormous needs following last year’s earthquake.
Iowans can call Senators Charles Grassley (202) 224-3744 and Tom Harkin (202) 224-3254 and tell them that the current budget proposals fail the moral criteria of Catholic teaching to protect the poor and advance the common good. Poor and vulnerable people didn’t cause our budget deficit; they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Shared sacrifice is a requirement to avoid jeopardizing the lives of people in great need at home and abroad.