Seeking Justice, Overcoming Poverty, Building Peace
A Catholic Message for Congress
As Catholics, we must come together with a common conviction that we can no longer tolerate the moral scandal of poverty in our land and so much hunger and deprivation in our world . . . As citizens of the most powerful democracy on earth, we have unique opportunities to use our voices and votes to shape a more caring community, a more just nation, and a more peaceful world.
A Place at the Table
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Catholic leaders from around the country come to Washington to speak for "the least of these" (Matthew 25) at home and abroad. We seek to recommit our nation to overcoming poverty, hunger and deprivation. In our country, the recession lingers and too many families suffer the consequences of unemployment and poverty. Our world is broken by violence and threats of greater conflict. We come to our nation's capital to seek alternatives to war and terrorism, hatred and despair.
For us, the test for this Congress will be how its choices touch the lives and dignity of all, especially the voiceless and vulnerable in the United States and around the world. As Catholic leaders, we bring to Capitol Hill our moral convictions and everyday experience in serving those in need in our nation. Around the world, our Catholic relief and mission organizations know the pain and suffering caused by armed conflict, disease and famine. We support measures to make our country and the world not only a safer place, but a better place
We seek to defend human life and dignity in America, the Middle East, and Africa. We stand against the violence of abortion and the vengeance of executions. We call on Congress not to neglect the needs of the vulnerable. We ask you to put the needs of poor families and children first; not to simply shrink assistance rolls, but to help poor families leave poverty and dependence to live in dignity. We ask you to resist a rush to war and find other ways to protect our people and promote human rights and development around the world.
We welcome efforts to reduce dependency and to offer people real hope through work, job training, child care and other supports. We also insist that the accelerated child tax credit include poor children and families of modest means. We have worked for debt relief, but more is necessary. We support new investments in combating disease and promoting development, especially in Africa. We come to Capitol Hill to urge priority action in four key areas:
We insist that a national safety net be preserved; that Medicaid, food stamps, head start and other essential commitments cannot be abandoned, diminished or undermined.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference has worked for welfare reform policies that protect human life and dignity, strengthen family life, encourage and reward work, preserve a safety net for the vulnerable, build public/private partnerships to overcome poverty, and invest in human dignity. A central goal for TANF reauthorization should be to address the moral scandal of so much poverty in the richest nation on earth. We will urge:
restoring necessary benefits to legal immigrants;
work requirements that do not limit states' ability to help TANF recipients to become self-sufficient, and that give states greater flexibility to count genuine education and training as work;
ensuring that those leaving welfare are helped by increasing funding for child care and year-long transitional Medicaid and food stamps.
supporting marriage and families by removing barriers to two parent families receiving assistance and providing counseling resources to low-income couples where appropriate.
The Catholic bishops have long supported tax changes to assist lower income families including a Refundable Child Tax Credit and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The President has proposed acting now to increase the child tax credit to its maximum of $1000. Families of modest means should also benefit from this acceleration. Technical changes must be made to the refundable credit to ensure that low and moderate income families are not left out. Likewise, accelerating the changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit for married couples would reward rather than penalize low income parents who are trying to raise their children in dignity. These changes may be complex, but our message is simple: Poor children and families of modest means have compelling needs and deserve priority as Congress allocates scarce resources and offers tax relief.
Based on the information now available, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has raised serious questions and concerns about the moral legitimacy of preemptive use of military force against Iraq. The bishops have said that it is difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. We recognize and repudiate the actions and threats of the Iraqi government, but seek alternative means to secure compliance with U.N. resolutions. Congress and the President should continue to work with other nations to find the will and the ways to step back from the brink of war with Iraq and work to fashion an effective global response to Iraq's serious threats that recognizes legitimate self defense and conforms to traditional moral limits on the use of military force.
We welcome the president's commitment to increase dramatically development aid. We will work for a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) which: (1) provides funding to those countries that demonstrate the greatest need, protect human rights, apply anti-corruption standards and have credible programs for combating poverty; and (2) emphasizes engaging civil society in designing and implementing development programs.
We also urge an increase above current levels of at least $1 billion in development aid for poor countries in Africa that do not qualify for this new initiative. We support an investment of $1.2 billion for food aid (PL 480) and a commitment of $800 million of new help in the Africa Famine Relief Act (S. 185 and H.R. 390). We applaud the president's commitment to triple HIV/AIDS funding and support increases that would bring funding to at least $2 billion in FY 2004 for morally responsible programs to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. We continue to support necessary efforts limiting debt service payments of heavily-indebted poor countries to 10% of government revenues, and 5% of government revenues for countries with severe health crises.
As our nation faces terror and war, recession and deficits, we come to Washington to insist that our response to poor children and families—at home and abroad—is a central moral measure of the choices facing the Congress and our people. We will be judged by our response to "the least of these." We also echo the call of our Church, "if you want peace, work for justice."