March 21, 2003
The United States Senate
The Congress faces many difficult choices in fashioning the federal
budget for the coming year. Our nation is confronting war and
terrorism, seeking greater security for our people, and facing higher
unemployment and rising deficits. As President of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to make a simple plea—do not
overlook or neglect the needs of the poor and the vulnerable in the
We are pastors, not budget experts or economists. However, we remind
all of our leaders, whatever their party or ideology, 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. Poor children and families of modest means do not have
powerful lobbies, but they do have compelling needs and deserve priority
as you allocate resources and burdens in the coming fiscal year.
Preserving an adequate safety net for the poor and vulnerable may not
command as much attention as homeland security, tax cuts, and military
expenditures, but it is a fundamental moral obligation of a responsible
society. We want to work with you to secure adequate resources to
address hunger and homelessness, the needs of the jobless, and those
trying to escape welfare, educate their children, or gain health care
coverage. We also want to work with you to increase substantially
international development assistance, to improve dramatically our
nation's response to the health and food crises in Africa, to provide
additional relief for the poorest people of the earth, and to provide
assistance and protection to increasing numbers of refugees worldwide.
The addendum to this letter lists the domestic and international
programs which we understand will be impacted by the parameters of the
2004 budget process, and our recommendations.
We believe one of the most basic purposes of the tax system is to raise
the necessary revenues to pay for the common needs of our society. At a
time when many social needs continue to go unmet, we cannot ignore the
question of adequate federal revenues. We urge you to ensure that any
tax proposal adopted will not abrogate our obligation to respond to
basic human needs now and in the years to come.
Our bishops' conference has been a strong and consistent supporter of
the President's community and faith-based initiative because we believe
that putting more resources in the hands of these local groups will help
them fight poverty, substance abuse, homelessness, and other seemingly
intractable problems found in too many of our neighborhoods and
communities. However, these groups on their own cannot make these
communities whole. They complement but do not substitute for publicly
funded assistance programs that provide for basic needs such as
Medicaid, Food Stamps, and housing assistance. Support for the work of
faith-based and community groups, to be meaningful, must be accompanied
by a commitment to adequate federal funding of these programs. The
erosion of funding for these programs will undermine the safety net that
allows many families to survive when they are temporarily unemployed or
have recently left the welfare rolls.
The federal budget is more than a fiscal plan; it reflects our values
as a people. Your budget choices have clear moral and human dimensions.
In these tough times, with war, the struggling economy and persistent
unemployment, mounting deficits, and the demands of homeland security,
our Conference could not support a budget plan that neglects the needs
of the "least of these" in our nation and world.
With best wishes, I am
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
- 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 $89 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 that any proposal to advance or expand the size of the child credit must include refundability,
so that families of modest means do not fall further behind. Along the
same lines, we support simplifying and expanding the popular and
effective Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits so many low income families.
- While the FY04 Administration's budget for the Department of
Housing and Urban Development has some positive aspects such as the
consolidation of homelessness assistance, and an increase in the HOME
program, it does not adequately address the nation's serious housing problems.
We urge you to reject proposals to reduce existing housing resources,
and unnecessarily change the housing choice voucher program.
- We urge you to oppose the cuts called for in the House budget resolution to the child nutrition, Food Stamp, and emergency food assistance programs, and to allocate sufficient new funding, to strengthen and improve child nutrition programs.
- We urge you to oppose the 10 percent reduction in Farm Bill spending as proposed by the House budget resolution.
- We urge you to oppose proposed cuts in the Medicare and Medicaid
programs, as well as any changes fundamentally altering Medicaid as an
entitlement to health care for low income families, the elderly, and the
disabled. Congress should provide immediate fiscal relief to states to prevent erosion of health care coverage under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
- 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 needed 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 03. 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
- 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 current '03 funding of $382 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 $554.2 million for the Department of Health and Human Service Office of Refugee Resettlement
(ORR) for assistance for refugee and asylee entrants. In addition, ORR
should receive $15 million for human trafficking programs, $15 million
for services to victims of torture, and $50 million for the care of
unaccompanied alien children, a program transferred to ORR pursuant to
the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
- In the new 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. These funding streams
were included in the FY 2003 budget for the now defunct Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS).
- The International Affairs budget as passed by the House
Budget Committee is woefully underfunded. We urge you to support full
funding of the President's request ($18.8 billion) for foreign
operations. This request includes important new initiatives proposed by
the President—the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the HIV/AIDS initiative—that we believe must be adequately funded during this budget cycle.
- We urge you to support the $1.3 billion which the President has
proposed for the MCA in FY04, and, in view of the pressing needs of the
millions of poor in Africa who will not benefit from the MCA, we urge
an increase of $1 billion over the President's proposal for Africa-focused poverty reduction programs.
- In light of the critical need for immediate action, we urge at
least $3 billion for morally and culturally responsible programs to
fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. HIV/AIDS prevention programs which promote behavioral change so as to attain responsible and mutually respectful relationships should be fully funded.
- We urge support for the same level of PL 480 Title II
funding in FY04 as was appropriated in FY03, $1.44 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
- We urge increased funding for the Migration and Refugee Assistance and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance accounts to bring total funding to $927 million and $50 million, respectively.
- We urge you to adopt at least the funding levels requested by the President for the seven development assistance accounts
in the foreign operations budget. The failure to replace the funding
removed by the House Budget Committee from these international programs
will endanger the effectiveness of these programs and should not be