Catholic Charities leaders push priorities with Congress on 'Hill Day'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Four years ago, Ted Bergh was asking members of Congress to support
food programs and comprehensive immigration reform, issues of deep concern to
Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, which he serves as CEO.

was back on Capitol Hill March 29 for Catholic Charities USA’s Hill Day with
the same concerns and a few more in a time of uncertainty under a new White
House administration.

Charities leaders spent the second day of their two-day meeting pressing
support for federally funded social services — in many cases their lifeblood
— that touch the lives of the millions of people they serve. Their concerns encompassed
affordable housing, protections for immigrants and refugees, services for
senior citizens, and food programs in schools and rural communities — all in
response to the deep cuts in social services proposed in President Donald
Trump’s “skinny” budget.

The budget
— a preliminary plan with specifics due in May — calls for $54 billion in
cuts in discretionary spending in nonmilitary programs including many social services.
The budget calls for a corresponding boost in military spending.

The proposed
reapportioning of the federal budget did not sit well with Robert McCann, president and CEO of
Catholic Charities Spokane in Washington state. He said he wanted to
stress to Congress that a budget is a values-based document that answers the
question, “What is most important to us?”

my mind, being able to solve homelessness in our country is more important than
spending $582 billion on defense.” McCann said. “I’m a patriot and I
want to defend America, but I also want to take care of the dignity of every
human being. That they deserve a bed and a shower and a place to eat and place
to have a normal life. We can solve homelessness in the country, but it’s going
to take an intentional effort.”

and colleagues made similar pitches.

pantries cannot do it all. We run some food pantries. We have some mobile food
pantries in rural areas. There’s a lot of hunger. There’s a lot of despair
there,” Bergh told Catholic News Service on the way to a meeting with an
aide to the Senate Committee
on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

SNAP benefits decline, the pressure on the charitable organizations that are
doing all this feeding work is just going to increase. I don’t think you can
expect the charitable organizations to do it all,” Bergh added.

In the
meeting, Bergh turned to the lack of affordable housing in Cincinnati and
beyond. He and others pressed for affordable housing projects to be included in Trump’s call for $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements.
It was an idea they said was mentioned during a private meeting with Ben
Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the day

was backed by Laura Jordan
Roesch, CEO of Catholic Charities Social Services of the
Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio, who said housing support for low-income
families and immigrant communities in particular can help grow the economy.

Roesch told CNS afterward, has undertaken a policy of welcoming immigrants in
the wake of the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The newcomers
have refurbished houses, opened business and created a burgeoning economy in the
city’s Old North Dayton
neighborhood, she said.

Capitol Hill, agency leaders repeated calls to protect the social safety net,
fearing programs that benefit poor people were being targeted by the president’s budget
proposal. The officials also made sure to point out that any change in the
Affordable Care Act must ensure that people do not lose the health coverage
they now have.

They cited
examples from their communities of how low-income families are faced with
spending an ever-growing percentage of their limited incomes for rent. Families
especially have turned to Catholic Charities for rental assistance to avoid
eviction and the resulting upheaval of family life.

Their point: Keeping people in a stable setting saves money in the long run because they are
not having to turn to more costly emergency services. Stable housing reduces
crime, drug abuse and school dropout rates, they said.

Terry Walsh, president and chief
executive office of Catholic Charities Hawaii, said he wanted to respond
to the “senior tsunami” affecting the state in which the senior
population is rising at five times the rate of the rest of the country, stressing the
affordable housing market on the islands.

capita, Hawaii has the highest homeless rate in the country,” Walsh said. HUD in 2016 counted 7,921 people as homeless in Hawaii, whose
population totals 1.4 million. “It’s going beyond the chronically
homeless. It affects children. It affects seniors. It affects families,” he

In meetings with staff of the
House and Senate committees on agriculture, Kim Brabits, vice president, program operations for
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, cited the need for strengthening
food programs because of growing “food deserts” in rural areas of the 21
counties her agency serves. She said locally owned grocery stores in small
towns and at crossroads have been forced to close as mega-supermarkets that are
up to an hour away from some residents have opened.

mission is to increase the summer meal programs,” Brabits said.
“Cutting the program would be detrimental to the kids we serve.”

said meal programs are effective, despite what some government officials have
said publicly. “We’re feeding people,” she said. “That’s the
main goal: how many people are being fed.”

for disaster response was on the mind of Sister Marjorie Hebert, a member of Marianites of the Holy
Cross and president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New
Orleans. Making her visit for Hill Day, she said the area had
experienced weather-related disasters in the last year that forced people from
their homes.

need to find a faster way to get the money to the recipients. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is there
quickly enough. We sometimes have to front money for almost nine to 12 months
before we (the region) get the federal assistance,” she said.

importantly, she said, her visit to Congress was to serve as a reminder of the
value of the front line services her agency provides and “the number of
people we serve.”

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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