April 20, 2005
The Honorable William H. Frist
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Frist:
In February, as Congress began the process of developing the 2006 budget for the United States government, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged Members to consider the moral dimensions of the decisions they make when setting the fiscal priorities for our nation. These decisions will have real human consequences, which can help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, and advance or jeopardize the future of our nation.
As the House and Senate turn to reconciling the differences between the two budget resolutions, we write to share our concern on several key domestic and international programs found in the 2006 budget. These recommended actions are based upon our application of Catholic teaching to these key policy choices that affect those in need both here and abroad.
- We are pleased that both the House and Senate overwhelmingly support maintaining the Community Development Block Grant program in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We urge you to provide enough money to fully fund CDBG and other HUD programs that serve poor and vulnerable people.
- By rejecting reconciliation instructions to the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate budget resolution maintains our nation’s investment in programs that protect and support low-income families and low paid workers. Funding levels for many of these programs, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) have not increased for many years. Many in Congress see the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as one of the most effective ways of assisting low paid workers trying to raise children. We urge you to follow the Senate’s approach and not include any reconciliation instructions for these programs that could lead to cuts.
- The House budget resolution requires up to $20 billion in cuts to the Medicaid program which could have disastrous consequences for the millions of low-income pregnant women, children, elderly and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health care. Policy changes to Medicaid should be made only following a review of the program to consider what changes are needed to ensure Medicaid’s efficiency and effectiveness, not to meet preset budget reduction goals. The final budget resolution instead should provide funding for the creation of a bipartisan commission to conduct this comprehensive review. We urge you to follow the Senate budget resolution by not including reconciliation instructions requiring cuts in the Medicaid program.
- Both the House and Senate budget resolutions include reconciliation instructions requiring the Agriculture Committees to make cuts to programs in their jurisdictions. We are very concerned that this could result in cuts to the food stamps and child nutrition programs, with harmful consequences for those who rely on this funding to feed their families. To minimize the potential impact on nutrition programs, we urge that the budget savings for the Agriculture committee be no higher than the $2.8 billion over five years adopted by the Senate.
- We urge that the final Budget Resolution contain adequate funding for education priorities that serve elementary and secondary school students, especially those most at-risk for academic failure in both public and private schools. Specifically, 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 last year’s figures. Because Catholic school children with disabilities receive IDEA services only through the federal portion of the funding, the commitment to fully funding IDEA is crucial to ensuring their equitable participation.
- Additionally, we urge you to include sufficient funding for programs authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act. It is crucial that these funds are included so that Title I will be adequately funded, and smaller programs such as Title V: Innovative Programs, Safe and Drug Free Schools, and Technology Education can continue to reach the students and teachers who depend on them.
The International Affairs allocation in the House-adopted budget resolution is under-funded at $1.4 billion below the President’s request. We ask you to support the $33.4 billion budgeted by the Senate for International Affairs.
We also urge you to support:
- Full funding of the President’s request for the International Affairs (150) Account and to resist any amendments to reduce these funds. Cuts in the 150 Account would reduce funding available for humanitarian aid and development assistance and make the world and our nation less secure. Other programs should be funded on their own merits and not at the expense of aid to poor people.
- The Durbin/Santorum Amendment to add $500 million for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to ensure that critical needs are met and that the United States contributes its fair share to the Fund’s crucial programs.
- The DeWine Amendment to increase funding for Child Survival and Maternal Health by $334 million, which makes up for shortfalls in the President’s request.
- $3 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account, to signal our nation’s full commitment to this targeted aid program for the least developed countries.
- $950 million for the International Development Association to provide adequate levels of support for critically needed investments in developing countries.
- A $1 billion increase over current spending levels for core development and humanitarian accounts for critical needs in countries that do not qualify for targeted aid.
Finally, we reiterate a critical point made by Bishop Skylstad in his February letter to Congress, concerning the need for government to raise sufficient resources to meet the needs of society. If government continues to spend far more money than it takes in year after year, it could seriously limit its ability to meet our moral obligations to respond to basic human needs now and in the future. Any new tax proposals should be evaluated in that light before being adopted. Both the spending and revenue sides of the budget ledger must be assessed to ensure that there are adequate resources to protect people who are poor and vulnerable.
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 difficult times, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges you to work for a budget that does not neglect the needs of the “least of these” in our nation and the world.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
Domestic Policy Committee
Most Rev. John Ricard SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
International Policy Committee
Most Rev. Bernard Harrington
Bishop of Winona
Committee on Education