April 22, 2004
In the next few weeks, Congress will be finalizing a budget for the United States government, setting priorities for our nation. This process takes place in the face of major challenges: the costs of war and homeland security, a recovering economy with persistent unemployment, and the consequences of tax policy and entitlement programs. As President of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I urge you to give particular consideration to the human consequences and moral dimensions of your choices, since those decisions help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, and advance or jeopardize the future of our nation.
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. The needs of poor children and families of modest means are often overlooked. They deserve special priority as you allocate economic resources and burdens. The choices you make determine how future generations will be burdened and blessed.
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 and homelessness. 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.
Even as the economy improves, the demand for human services continues to grow especially for those on the margins of economic life—people who want to work, but cannot find employment; families without health care coverage; and children who lack adequate education and housing that will help them grow into responsible and productive adults. Preserving an adequate safety net 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.
Deficits can be justified as a necessary and temporary response to particular serious circumstances, but if government spends far more money than it takes in year after year, it could raise profound economic and moral questions. One of the most basic purposes of government, we believe, is to raise the money necessary to pay for the common needs of our society. When so many human and social needs go unmet, we must insist that adequate federal revenues be available to meet these needs. We urge you to ensure that any tax proposals adopted will not jeopardize our ability to meet our moral obligation to respond to basic human needs now and in the future.
An attachment to this letter identifies some of key domestic and international programs which could be impacted by the constraints of the 2005 budget process and includes some recommended actions based upon our application of Catholic teaching.
As pastors, we seek to raise some moral questions that should shape the fiscal debate. In these tough times, there are few easy choices. With war, the struggling economy and persistent unemployment, mounting deficits, and the demands of homeland security, we must ask “How can our nation best protect its people and advance the dignity of all?” Finding the right balance among these priorities will require making difficult choices and a commitment to protect poor and vulnerable people at home and around the world.
Most Reverend Wilton Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- We urge that the budget resolution fully fund the $1.3 billion increase in the Social Services Block Grant contained in the Charity Aid Recovery and Empowerment Act (CARE).
- We urge that you follow the President’s lead and set aside at least $70 billion over 10 years to expand health care coverage for the uninsured. While we have expressed some concerns regarding the specifics of the President’s tax-credit proposal, we agree Congress should earmark at least this amount to address the crisis of the uninsured.
- We urge you to adopt budgetary policies that would not disadvantage the programs that meet basic human needs.
- We urge you to reject proposals to reduce existing housing resources, and unnecessarily change the housing choice voucher program. The Administration’s fiscal year 2005 budget proposal for the Department of Housing and Urban Development would reduce funding for the Section 8 housing voucher program from FY’04 levels, and is nearly $2 billion less than the amount needed to fully fund the program in 2005. The housing voucher program assists many working families with children, and elderly or disabled people; these extremely low income families risk homelessness if they lose housing assistance.
- We urge you to 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.
- We urge you to 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 such a 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 achieving the equitable participation of these children.
- We urge that the budget resolution address the issue of school innovation and choice at a funding level significant enough to bring about real education reform. The administration’s proposal for FY ‘05 of $296.5 million under Title V, Part A of No Child Left Behind, when distributed across the states, does not provide adequate funding to assist school districts with empowering parents to exercise choice or provide enough resources to spark innovation and improvement.
- We urge you to provide $650 million for the Department of Health and Human Service Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for assistance for 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, a program transferred to ORR pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
- In the Department of Homeland Security, we urge continued funding to help eliminate backlogs in an array of immigration adjudication categories as well as for alternatives to detention and legal orientation presentations for detainees.
The International Affairs allocation that was contained in the House-adopted budget resolution is woefully underfunded. We urge you to support the amount budgeted by the Senate ($31.9 billion) for international Affairs 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.
- In view of the tremendous needs of millions of poor in Africa and elsewhere, we urge a $1 billion increase over current spending levels for core development and humanitarian accounts, with particular attention to the urgent needs in Africa.
- In light of the critical need for immediate action, we urge at least $3.6 billion for morally and culturally appropriate programs to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in FY05.
- We urge you to support the $2.5 billion which the President has proposed for the MCA in FY05.
- We urge support for the same level of PL 480 Title II funding in FY05 as was appropriated in FY04 ($1.2 billion) in order to meet the requirements of the law, which calls for 75% of Title II food aid to be used in programs that tackle the underlying causes of chronic hunger, and to be able to respond to the emergency needs in Africa and elsewhere.