WASHINGTON (April 26, 2004) -- In a letter to House and Senate Budget conferees, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop urged special consideration to the human consequences and moral dimensions of budgetary choices, "since those decisions help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, and advance or jeopardize the future of our nation."
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory wrote to conferees now finalizing a budget for the United States government. They do so in the face of such challenges as the cost of war and homeland security, a recovering economy with persistent unemployment, and the consequences of tax policy and entitlement programs.
"As pastors, we believe that a fundamental moral measure of our nation's budget policy is whether it enhances or undermines the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society," Bishop Gregory said. "The needs of poor children and families of modest means are often overlooked. They deserve priority as you allocate economic resources and burdens."
"All aspects of society, including government, should work together to secure adequate resources to assist those trying to escape joblessness or move beyond welfare, educate their children, gain health care coverage, or overcome hunger or homelessness," Bishop Gregory continued. "Our nation also has international responsibilities that require continued increases in international development assistance that will allow us to improve dramatically our nation's response to the tremendous development and health needs in Africa, to provide additional relief for the poorest people in other underdeveloped parts of the world, and to provide assistance and protection to refugees worldwide."
"Preserving an adequate safety for the poor and vulnerable is a fundamental moral obligation of a responsible society that must be balanced along with priorities like homeland security and military expenditures," Bishop Gregory wrote.
An attachment to the letter identified some key domestic and international programs which could be impacted by the constraints of the 2005 budget process and some recommended actions based upon Catholic teaching. Noted among domestic concerns were:
- Full funding of the $1.3 billion increase in the Social Services Block Grant contained in the Charity Aid Recovery and Empowerment Act (CARE).
- a set aside of at least $70 billion over 10 years to expand health care coverage for the uninsured, as called for by the President.
- rejection of proposals to reduce existing housing resources and unnecessarily change the housing choice voucher program.
- oppose proposed cuts in the Medicaid program and follow the Senate's lead in rejecting reconciliation instructions that would force these cuts to be made.
- fulfill the promise of full funding of special education. While Congress is currently setting the fulfillment of this goal at 2010, the budget resolution falls well short of the funding needs to achieve that goal. "We urge you to fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at the level long promised by Congress, increasing the state grants by $2 billion over FY'04. Because Catholic school children with disabilities receive services under IDEA only through the federal portion of the funding, fulfilling the agreement to meet the full funding goal is crucial to achieve the equitable participation of these children."
- that the budget resolution address the issue of school innovation and choice at a funding level significant enough to bring about real education reform.
- $650 million for the Department of Health and Human Services for assistance to refugee and asylee entrants, including $20 million for human trafficking programs, $25 million for services to victims of torture, and $60 million for the care of unaccompanied alien children.
International concerns and recommendations included:
- support the amount budgeted by the Senate ($31.9 billion) in order to help ensure that the U.S. meets its commitments on the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and HIV/AIDS, while strengthening existing development and humanitarian programs.
- a $1 billion over current spending levels for core development and humanitarian accounts, with particular attention to the urgent needs in Africa.
- at least $3.6 billion for morally and culturally appropriate programs to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in FY05.