Letter to U.S. Senate on Agriculture Budget Reconciliation, October 5, 2005
October 5, 2005
Senate Agriculture Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, we are writing to you concerning the budget reconciliation process. We understand that the Committee will mark up its reconciliation bill on Thursday, October 6, 2005. In light of the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we reiterate our concern about proposals in reconciliation to cut programs that serve the needy and vulnerable.
We have been concerned since the beginning of this process at the prospect of making important policy decisions in the context of a numbers-driven attempt to reduce the federal budget. These concerns have only increased following the devastation of the two hurricanes. The needs of the thousands of affected families and individuals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are significant and varied, immediate and long-term. Government and charitable organizations around the nation, including Catholic Charities agencies, Catholic healthcare facilities and Catholic dioceses and parishes, have been working around the clock to bring assistance in the form of medical care, food, water, temporary shelter, and social services to the many whose lives have been upended and overwhelmed by Katrina. Equally important is a strong federal commitment to making sure that benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing are readily available to all those seriously impacted by the hurricanes, without in any way harming or taking benefits from others who depend on them too. In addition, the long-term consequences of the hurricanes on agriculture, farmers, businesses and other aspects of our economy are yet to be seen.
Faced with the instruction to cut $3 billion from programs within its jurisdiction, we understand the Committee is contemplating cuts to the Food Stamp program, to programs to promote conservation on farms and ranches, and to farm support programs. Here briefly are our views on cuts to these three programs. (Enclosed is a paper which goes into further detail).
The Food Stamp program operates at a high level of efficiency and accuracy; any cuts to the program will mean lowering benefit levels or removing families from the program. This does not make any sense at a time when thousands of Katrina and Rita survivors will need to be added to the Food Stamp program. The Food Stamp program will need additional funding; this is not a time to be making cuts.
Protecting God’s creation must be a central goal of agricultural policies. We support policies that promote soil conservation, improve water quality, protect wildlife, and maintain biodiversity. As the massive cleanup along the Gulf Coast continues it is important to make sure that conservation programs are allowed to help restore those rural communities affected by Katrina and Rita.
Limited government resources for direct federal payments and other forms of domestic agricultural support should be targeted to small and moderate-sized farms, to help them through difficult times caused by periodic price shocks or unpredictable natural disasters, such as the recent hurricanes. Rather than simply rewarding production, which can lead to surpluses and falling prices, government resources should assist those farmers and rural communities who are truly in need. Limiting U.S. farm supports and targeting them to those who need them the most would also increase the possibility that poor farmers around the world would be able to sell their products, support their families and be less reliant on foreign assistance programs.
In sum, we urge you to revisit policy on farm supports in a way that protects farmers and ranchers truly in need, while protecting funding for the Food Stamp program and conservation programs.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.
Bishop of Brookln
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Br. David G. Andrews, CSC
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
Catholic Relief Services