The Bishops of Mississippi joined together Friday, May 26, to release a letter to lawmakers in response to the proposed federal budget.
May 26, 2017
This week, President Trump unveiled his FY18 federal budget proposal, a document that seeks to balance our nation’s budget but that is also a reflection of our American values. Or is it?
The budget includes steep cuts to both domestic and international funding for programs that help the poor, while increasing military spending. Many have spoken out in opposition to cuts of vital programs like Meals on Wheels or the Food Stamp program so many of our brothers and sisters rely on. And their voices have been amplified by media coverage of a budget that very much seems to be balanced on the backs of some of our fellow Americans who can least afford it.
For years, federal funding has been a revenue stream that supports essential health and social needs throughout Mississippi. Drastic cuts are certain to be harmful to all segments of the population, especially to vulnerable children and the elderly. Of course, it is incumbent upon our elected federal officials to direct the nation’s resources toward promoting the general welfare and national defense. On moral and civic grounds, we believe that a healthy and educated populace is of paramount importance for the security of our nation.
But we must also speak out about the draconian cuts to foreign aid funding the proposed budget includes. As Catholics, we’re called by the gospel to help our neighbors – whether they’re down the street or across the globe – and pay attention to ‘the least of these.’ Millions of people around the world depend on our generosity for their next meal, their clean drinking water, or the roof over their heads. But their voices aren’t heard. We must be their voice.
With nearly 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world right now – more than 20 million of them refugees – and famine-like conditions in four countries, the proposed elimination of U.S. food aid especially would create a massive gap in assistance, resulting in lives lost.
In Mali, for example, the American Catholic’s international aid organization, Catholic Relief Services, provides US-government funded school lunches to hundreds of thousands of children. It’s often their only reliable meal, and without it many would drop out of school.
Across East Africa, in Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, where famine was recently declared, food aid is a lifeline for millions who would otherwise be on the verge of starvation due to recurring drought and climate change.
Foreign aid provides much more than food. In Central America, for example, CRS and our local church partners provide job and skills training to youth whose lives are threatened daily by gang violence. Providing them with better economic prospects combats the proliferation of gangs and enables them to stay in their communities instead of migrating.
Americans are proud of international assistance that saves lives and gives people a chance at a future. We imagine ourselves in the shoes of a Somali woman who cannot feed her children, and she compels us to act. We feel God inviting us to be the Good Samaritan.
We have to be good stewards of our resources and balancing the budget requires difficult decisions. Those decisions should be “guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity, give central importance to “the least of these” (Matthew 25), and promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity,” as some of my brother bishops recently stated in a letter to Congress.
As the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States plays a key role in protecting the common good globally. The elimination of programs that offer food to starving families and development assistance to those seeking opportunity would have a detrimental impact on millions of lives around the world.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. We urge our government to listen as well, even amidst the many competing challenges we face around the world.
Yours in Christ,
Louis F. Kihneman, III Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Biloxi Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Jackson