Letter to Congress on Economic Stimulus Bill, October, 15, 2001
October 15, 2001
The United States Senate
The United States House of Representatives
I write as Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to urge you to develop an economic stimulus bill that will help our economy recover by including aid to low and moderate income families. Congress must act quickly and effectively to assist the millions of vulnerable people facing economic and social dislocation.
The tragic events of September 11th dealt a serious blow to the people of the United States, not only with the horrific loss of life, but damage to our social and economic life as well. The economic fallout of the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies has caused workers to lose their jobs in nearly every industry. At the end of September, unemployment claims reached a level unheard of since the bottom of the last recession a decade ago.
As the numbers of unemployed continue to climb, low income workers, immigrants, and poor families will likely suffer the brunt of the loss. Some will need immediate relief to pay their rent and to purchase food, clothing, and other necessities. Fortunately, we have in place an Unemployment Insurance program (UI) that was established for this purpose. However, we must make changes in the program so that UI will reach those who need help the most.
First, low wage and part-time workers should be eligible to receive aid.
Second, the federal government should increase, temporarily, the amount of assistance provided to workers, particularly for those workers in states paying very low benefits.
Finally, benefits should be extended, again temporarily.
As pastors, we know the human cost of joblessness and the social consequences of inadequate benefits. The Holy Father points out that society and the state are obliged to protect the worker "either through economic policies aimed at ensuring balanced growth and full employment or through unemployment insurance..." Obviously new jobs are the best answer for those without work, but, in the meantime, we owe these workers some measure of compassion and justice through a reformed and improved unemployment insurance system.
Congress should also consider changes in other federal programs designed to cushion people from the vagaries of the economic cycle. The Food Stamp program, an important tool of past recessions, should be modified to enhance the outreach, adjust the eligibility requirements, and increase the allotments to needy families and children. Likewise, the appropriations levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) should be increased to meet the increased demand. Health care must be sustained for families who depend upon displaced workers for their health insurance.
Of all the various tax proposals, we strongly support a tax rebate focused on low and middle income households that includes (rather than excludes) the millions of workers who pay payroll but not income taxes. Focusing on these households will help stimulate the economy since these families will likely use these dollars to meet their basic needs.
Finally, Congress needs to raise the minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage will put money into the paychecks of low income people. While this increase will help stimulate the economy since the money will immediately be spent, it is also critical for these workers, many of whom support families.
We believe that coming to the aid of low income families is not only good for the overall economy, but is the right thing to do. These are the families who need the most help and will use that assistance to make purchases which in turn will help our economy recover.
Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee