WASHINGTON (May 19, 2006)—Funds to help U.S. hurricane victims find housing and assistance for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, need to be included in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill under consideration by a the House/Senate Conference Committee, two U.S. bishops' committees said in a May 19 letter to Congress.
People in the Gulf Region are struggling, the bishops noted. "Without assistance, the working poor, senior citizens, and people with disabilities will find it impossible to afford housing."
Urging help for Haiti, the bishops noted the nation's "serious environmental challenges, and poverty affecting nearly 80 percent of the work force."
"It has the highest child mortality rate in the region, with nearly 60 of every 1,000 children dying annually," the bishops said.
The letter was signed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn (NY), Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee, and Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando (FL), Chairman, Committee on International Policy.
The letter follows.
As you take up consideration of H.R. 4939, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery 2006, we write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to urge your active support for two essential areas of funding: one for affordable housing for low-income families on the US Gulf Coast, and another for the people of Haiti.
The Senate bill has $100 million for project-based rental housing assistance for the lowest-income households in the Gulf Coast area—enough to support 13,500 vouchers. This assistance
would be available for developments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida. We strongly support this appropriation and urge you to maintain it in the final conference report.
The states and local governments of the Gulf are struggling to provide help to the hundreds of thousands of families who need housing assistance. Unfortunately, these efforts do not reach a huge number of families still seeking affordable housing, those with the lowest incomes. Dioceses and Catholic agencies in the area tell us that rent in the hardest hit areas has risen by 25 percent or more. Without assistance, the working poor, senior citizens, and people with disabilities will find it impossible to afford housing.
We also urge support for no less than $40 million for the urgent needs of Haiti, also contained in the Senate bill, in the final conference report. Recent elections in Haiti marked a decisive step for the people of Haiti on the path towards more a stable and peaceful democracy. By the time the FY 2007 Appropriations are signed into law and the Administration sets its country levels, it will likely have been over a year since the Haitian leader, Mr. Préval, was elected. US assistance is vital to demonstrating our support for democracy and stability.
Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with serious environmental challenges, and poverty affecting nearly 80 percent of its work force. It has the highest child mortality rate in the region, with nearly 60 of every 1,000 children dying annually. Its needs are much greater than the funds that were included in the Senate bill, but these funds, and the signal the US Congress sends to Haiti by providing these funds , are a vital next step on the long road to recovery.
In its September 2005 statement on Hurricane Katrina, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urged that response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts on the Gulf Coast be guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching: "Our faith and what we have seen call us to insist that every aspect of recovery, every plan for rebuilding should be measured by how it protects human life and how it threatens or enhances the dignity of all those touched by this catastrophe, especially the weakest and most vulnerable."
In the same statement, the bishops recognized that this devastating natural disaster unites us with so many people around the world who suffer from hunger and poverty every day. The bishops said: "As we care for and stand with our sisters and brothers along the Gulf Coast, we cannot forget that the lives and dignity of many others are threatened around our world by the powerful winds of hunger and disease and the flood of deprivation and despair. Responding to this catastrophe should open our eyes and hearts to other human calamities which haunt our world."
Thank you for considering the needs of low income families on the Gulf Coast for affordable housing and of the people of Haiti who suffer great poverty. In appreciation for your work on behalf of poor and vulnerable communities in the United States and in Haiti, we remain,