School teacher Mary Beth Goff appreciates U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s statement that “public housing should be a springboard, not a hammock.” But in Cairo, Ill., where she teaches, many students and their families will soon lose their dilapidated public housing to the wrecking ball. They don’t know where they will live, and that’s frightening. The hammock analogy doesn’t apply. “These are kids,” she said in a June 1 National Public Radio broadcast. Carson reportedly promised he’ll find homes for these families. When, and where?
This question should concern all of us in light of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018. It calls for a 13 percent reduction in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, among other draconian cuts in social services. The HUD cut hits close to home. Two months ago, The Catholic Messenger reported that affordable housing is out of reach for many, such as “Miss G,” a woman in her 30s living with her parents in Clinton because she couldn’t afford to rent an apartment.
President Donald Trump in “The Budget Message of the President” envisions human thriving through the removal of “the barriers holding back our economic growth.” He identifies eight pillars of reform pertaining to health, taxes, immigration, reduced federal spending, regulatory rollback, energy development, welfare and education.
However, the reforms come with a heavy price tag: a $54 billion reduction in non-defense discretionary spending in 2018. The budget plan would reduce non-defense spending by 2 percent each year, to reach approximately $385 billion in 2027. Conversely, defense spending would be increased by $54 billion above the cap in the current law. “These funds will begin years of increased investment to end the depletion of our military and build warfighting readiness,” the budget proposal states. This thinking turns Isaiah 2:4 on its head: plowshares and pruning hooks would be transformed into swords and spears.
Our church teaches that three pillars constitute the common good: respect for the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person; promotion of human development, so that individuals have access to what they need to live a truly human life; and defense of peace that uses morally acceptable means to promote the security of society and its members.
We must ask ourselves: How does reprioritization in the federal budget serve the common good? Who will flourish when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget is slashed by 21 percent? When Medicaid, which helps millions of low-income people afford medical care, is cut by more than $800 billion over 10 years? Who will benefit from funding cuts for the Superfund cleanup program? Who will assist the divorced parent struggling to keep a roof over the heads of the children when the Earned Income Tax Credit is reduced?
The leaders of six committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent letters to Congress registering deep concern about the fiscal year 2018 budget process. “Sharp increases in defense and immigration enforcement spending, coupled with simultaneous and severe reductions to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly to many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling,” the six bishops said.
Sister Donna Markham, OP, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also expressed grave concern and frustration over a federal budget that would adversely affect vital safety programs needed to move people out of poverty. “… [T]he disastrous, albeit cruel, cuts to anti-poverty programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and jobs training will have a devastating effect on millions of vulnerable individuals and families who depend on them.”
The bishops say they stand ready to work with the leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people and advances peace and the common good. We can do no less.
Kent Ferris, diocesan director of the Social Action Office, will lead a meeting June 27 from 7-9 p.m. at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville to address the proposed federal budget. The meeting will be accessible electronically for people unable to attend in person. Plan to participate and to share your ideas for effective grassroots response to a federal budget that requires an overhaul for the sake of God’s people.
As we consider the budget and the need to serve the common good, we also need to reflect on care of God’s creation. Next week’s editorial will address the Paris climate agreement.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor