“To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #7
Starting tomorrow, over 500 Catholic leaders from around the country will begin their work to “take effective steps to secure” the good and well-being of those who continue to struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness and other needs in our country. Participants in the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering will hear about, reflect on and meet with their elected officials and discuss how domestic federal policy must work to protect and assist “the least of these.”
While there are indications there have been some modest improvements in the economy, it is very clear that not all are sharing in this development. Too many Americans still struggle, have fallen out of, or simply do not count as, the middle class anymore. The need remains to protect and strengthen the social safety-net to ensure the basic needs of millions of poor and vulnerable people across the country.
Recent data illustrates the seriousness of the continuing problem:
- Over 14 percent of Americans (45 million) live in poverty;
- In 2013, 49 million people in the U.S. including 16 million children, lived in food-insecure households;
- Housing is a human right yet, only 1 in 4 that need housing assistance receives it.
Protect poor people in the Federal Budget
Since our economy is simply not creating enough decent jobs with just-family wages, it is imperative that Congress craft a budget that prioritizes poor and vulnerable people and that follows a just set of moral criteria:
- Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity;
- A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the lives and dignity of the “least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty, should come first;
- Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
This year, participants in the conference will highlight the following domestic policy priorities to address the unmet needs of vulnerable people:
- Protect programs that alleviate hunger and improve nutrition. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); School and Summer Lunches; and other food assistance programs must be protected to eliminate the scandal of hunger;
- Meet the unmet housing need. Adequately fund homelessness, affordable housing, and community development programs;
- Ensure access to life-affirming health care; and,
- Support sufficient decent job creation. Support work by protecting workforce development programs.
Pope Francis speaks often about a “throw away culture” and an “economy that kills.” He rightfully calls into question a socio-economic system that “is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes” (Evangelii Gaudium #59).
It is naïve to think that state-sponsored programs alone are a panacea to poverty, hunger and economic injustice. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have suggested as such. Nonetheless, government, the public authority, has an indispensable role to promote the common good. Its very legitimacy depends on this.
For the participants in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, it is the call of the Gospel and the virtue of perseverance that brings them back to the offices of their elected officials, to ensure that as a nation we take effective steps to secure the good of our brothers and sisters.
Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.
Check out the USCCB backgrounder on federal domestic anti-poverty programs.