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Budget cutting and the unheard cry of the poor

Posted By August 26, 2011 | 6:02 pm | Commentary
Tony Magliano writes the social justice column "Making a Difference"
Tony Magliano writes the social justice column "Making a Difference"

By Tony Magliano
Catholic News Service

It’s a good thing that the Lord hears the cry of the poor, because Congress and the Obama administration are hardly listening!
In the 2011 federal budget, they cut $354 million from food aid programs to the world’s hungriest people — including programs that respond to famines like the current emergency in the Horn of Africa, says the Christian anti-poverty organization Bread for the World.
And that’s not all.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was cut by $24.7 million.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was cut by $518 million.
And the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was cut by $390 million.
These are just a sampling of the heartless budgetary cuts that Congress and the Obama administration have already inflicted on the poor. And with the new $2.1 trillion debt-reducing deal that they recently approved, the cry of the poor will increasingly be tuned out.
According to Bread for the World’s analysis, “Discretionary programs important to hungry and poor people are at risk of deep cuts. Programs include international food aid, poverty-focused development assistance, WIC, job-training programs, Head Start, and Hunger Free Communities.”
Polling data reveals that the average American thinks that the federal government spends around 25 percent of its budget on international poverty-focused assistance, and believes that it should instead spend 10 percent.
Not even close.
The truth is that the United States spends only 0.6 percent on such aid, according to Bread for the World.
While cutting this already small amount of assistance to the world’s poor will do very little to reduce the $1.4 trillion federal deficit, it will have disastrous consequences for the poorest of the poor!
How did the U.S. treasury go from having a reported budgetary surplus in 2000 to a $1.4 trillion deficit in 2011?
Well, it certainly wasn’t due to the approximately $20 billion given annually for poverty-focused international assistance.
Moving from a healthy surplus to a sick deficit is overwhelmingly due to three U.S. wars, astronomical military budgets, deregulation of financial institutions, greedy banks, huge corporate tax loopholes and two rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy.
“Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride,” says Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
All of this is Robin Hood in reverse: taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
But the wealthy and government have a grave moral duty to justly assist the poor.
Pope Paul VI’s highly relevant 1967 encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (“On the Development of Peoples”) has challenging words, especially for those who favor limiting government’s humanitarian role, slashing life-saving aid to the poor and preserving huge tax cuts for the wealthy.
Pope Paul wrote: “Let each one examine his conscience, a conscience that conveys a new message for our times. Is he prepared to support out of his own pocket works and undertakings organized in favor of the most destitute? Is he ready to pay higher taxes so that the public authorities can intensify their efforts in favor of development? …
“The same duty of solidarity that rests on individuals exists also for nations: ‘Advanced nations have a very heavy obligation to help the developing peoples'” (Nos. 47, 48).
And we Catholics have a very heavy obligation to urge the U.S. president and our congressional delegation to increase, not decrease, aid to the domestic and global poor!