Catholic leaders find proposed federal budget largely fails the moral test

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget sent shivers
through social service, education and environmental communities, prompting church
leaders and advocates to question the administration’s commitment to people in

leaders repeated in interviews with Catholic News Service that a budget is a moral
document that reflects the nation’s priorities and that they found that the spending
plan revealed May 23 backs away from the country’s historical support for children,
the elderly and the poor, and protecting the environment.

concern focuses on the deep cuts — totaling $52 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $3.6
trillion over the next decade — in international aid, senior services, health
care, hunger prevention, job training, air and water protection, and climate
change research. The cuts essentially are paying for a corresponding $52
billion boost in military spending.

say there’s a human component here. It’s not just about defense. It’s not just
about deficits,” said Bishop
Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on
Domestic Justice and Human Development.

often we think the budget is a number. It’s not. Right behind those numbers are
human beings and they look like you and they look like me,” he told CNS.

Sister Donna Markham, president and
CEO of Catholic Charities USA, echoed Bishop Dewane’s contention, saying
she was “profoundly disturbed” by the White House plan. “You
can’t have people who are suffering and expect them to bring themselves out of
poverty when we cut off their access to food and health care and job training.
It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

it’s saying where the values are of this administration. And their values do
not align with our values as people of faith who are charged with looking out
for those among us who are most in need,” Sister Markham added.

rather than directly engage the White House, officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic
Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and other agencies are planning to turn
to Congress, which they see as a firewall to minimize the depth of the cuts being
proposed. They have four months of work before a budget must be in place Sept.
30, the start of the next fiscal year.

in Congress, as expected, have opposed the change in spending priorities. Many
Republicans have as well, describing the plan assembled by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office
of Management and Budget and a Georgetown University graduate, simply as
a starting point.

still worries social service administrators such as Gregory R. Kepferle, CEO
of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County in San Jose, California.

just presenting this extreme case, it’s a classic negotiating ploy (to) be as
obnoxious and extreme as possible and then move to the middle,” Kepferle
said. “It still means devastating cuts to the poor and more money for the
rich. It’s a breathtaking transfer of wealth from the poorest of the poor to
the wealthy.”

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des
Moines, Iowa, is so concerned about the budget plan that he has
undertaken a day of fasting and prayer on the 21st day of each month from now
through December 2018 when the current session of Congress ends.

Pates said the effort, organized by Bread for the World, for which he serves on
the board of directors, is a time-honored tradition in the face of injustice.
“In addition to the lobbying efforts, we really feel that prayer and
fasting and relationship together as a religious community is very important,”
he said.

A look
at the numbers provides insight into the concern that prompted such action.

fiscal year 2027, the budget outline incorporates more than $800 billion in reduced
Medicaid spending envisioned in the House-approved American Health Care Act,
which is under review in the Senate. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program, formerly known as food stamps, will see $192 billion in reduced spending over
the decade.

In Trump’s
plan, deep cuts are proposed for teacher training, after-school and summer programs,
Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance, and the Senior Community
Service Employment Program. The $200-million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education
program and the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant program are among
the better-known programs slated for elimination.

Environmental Protection Agency would lose $2.5 billion, about 31 percent of
its current budget. Plans call for reducing support for research and
development, the Superfund cleanup program and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Funding for international climate change programs would end.

Dan Misleh, executive director of
the Catholic Climate Covenant, said it appears that the administration values
business profits over people’s health.

this sense that if it’s hurting business then it’s a bad regulation,” Misleh
said. “I certainly think there are undoubtedly some regulations that can
be scaled back or done away with, maybe environmental regulations that outlive their
usefulness. But I also think that can’t be the only criteria whether we judge a
regulation is good or bad.

these regulations impact people should be the first priority and whether business
can afford them or is truly detrimental to business is another conversation,”
he said. “As Catholics, we should be concerned about how these environmental
rules and regulations impact people.”

Some proposals
in the budget have long been sought by Catholic advocates. The fiscal year 2018 plan
includes $1.4 billion for charter schools, private schools and other
school choice initiatives. Another provision would prohibit funding for any
agency that offers abortion services even though federal funds cannot be used
for the procedure, as current law requires. If adopted, the proposal would end
all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion

great country does not send money to those who kills its children,” Father Frank Pavone, national
director of Priests for Life, said in a statement, supporting the budget
provision. “It’s appropriate not to force taxpayers to subsidize
abortionists and it’s logical to exclude Planned Parenthood from health
programs. Abortion is not health care.”

Still, there
are overarching concerns about the impact of the budget on people who are least
able to fend for themselves.

money to the military is not going to solve our problems,” said Lawrence Couch, director of the
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Washington.
“In the long run this is untenable. Eventually people will not tolerate
that type of situation where they are not at the table.”

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive
director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said cuts
in Medicaid funding are particularly troublesome because nearly half of such spending
supports senior citizens and disabled people.

(the budget is) implemented as proposed I think many people will kind of fall
through the cracks,” he said. “I do have a certain hope and
confidence as it goes through the legislative process that people will realize
that the proposed budget needs significant modification.”

When it
comes to international aid, a spokesman for Catholic Relief Services said foreign
aid cuts ultimately could affect national security because poverty and
desperation would expand. Bill
O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at the
agency, called on Congress to protect nearly $60 billion in diplomacy and development

cited the McGovern-Dole food program as one that has made a difference in the
lives of children at a small cost. In a region of Honduras, for example, the
program provides 90,000 children with a lunch at school, allowing them to
attend classes and reducing the likelihood they will join a violent gang, O’Keefe

not just lunch,” he told CNS. “It’s providing opportunities for kids
to go to school, get a quality education and for the community to engage in the
school in a way that’s good for the community.”

In the
Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Patrick
J. Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities, predicted people
will feel the pinch of reduced services. While the agency does not receive
federal funds outside of refugee resettlement and natural disaster services, Raglow
expects that it will be counted on to provide broader assistance particularly
in rural communities if the proposed budget remains substantially untouched.

suggested that funding will have to be sought elsewhere to meet existing needs
if the cuts go through.

means you have to engage the (wider) community differently to sustain the community
you’re serving. We have to be faithful to God almighty, not to Uncle Sam
almighty,” Raglow said.

does mean you have to get off your duff and get out of your office and you’ve
got to make some asks,” he added. “Resources are available. You just
have to go out and find them. But we shouldn’t sit there and crawl under our
desk because of this budget.”

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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