As the 113th Congress enters the “lame-duck” session before newly-elected members take office, the U.S. Bishops are urging that a “circle of protection” be enacted around budget programs focusing on the poor. “As you consider federal spending and tax legislation,” the bishops wrote in a Nov. 17 letter to each member of Congress, “we urge you to draw a ‘circle of protection’ around the many programs that serve poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.” The letter was authored by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., who chairs the committee on International Justice and Peace. “A just framework for spending and tax priorities cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” the letter insisted. “We have consistently supported the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits, and insist that it be pursued in ways that protect poor and vulnerable people.” Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 12 to keep the government running and prevent another government shutdown. Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantu laid out three guiding principles for considering spending cuts to federal programs, the first one being whether a spending cut “protects or threatens human life and dignity.” The needs of the poor must always be paramount when considering the worth of a program, the bishops insisted, noting Jesus’ words about the “least of these” in the Gospel. And, they continued, government carries some responsibility “to promote the common good of all,” particularly families struggling during hard economic times. Among the programs that the bishops pointed to were food stamp programs, housing assistance programs, and others like the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Head Start. The bishops also advocated for Congress to keep the Earned Income Tax Credit and part of the Child Tax Credit that is “refundable,” since “together, they reduce child poverty 6.4 percentage points.” Furthermore, Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantu said that Congress should match the Obama administration’s request for an additional $6.2 billion to fight Ebola, along with increasing humanitarian and disaster relief. “Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad,” the letter said. “These voices are too often missing from public policy debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.” The bishops said that U.S. international aid is below almost every country as a percentage of national income. “On average, donor countries give 0.45 percent of gross national product; the United States gives only 0.2 percent. We can do better. Most Americans assume we give much more,” they insisted.
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