US churches challenge Senate to use 2008 budget for social justice

By staff writers
February 18, 2007

The heads of five American Christian denominations have sent a joint letter to all members of the new Democrat-majority US Congress, calling for a compassionate and just federal budget in 2008.

President George W. Bush sent his fiscal year 2008 budget request to Congress early in February 2007. The letter, written in response, has been signed by the Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); the Most Rev Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA); the Rev Beverly J. Shamana, bishop and president of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society; and the Rev John H. Thomas, general minister and president, United Church of Christ.

"As the leaders of five denominations whose members helped shape the core values of this nation from its founding, we believe the federal budget must represent a shared vision of justice and compassion for all of God's people, both in our own nation and around the world,'" said the letter.

"Not surprisingly, we find that the FY '08 federal budget meets our vision in some areas but decidedly not in others," it continued. "We are grateful for increases in international assistance programmes, and call upon Congress to ensure that equally critical domestic spending receives similar increases. Those increases must not come, however, at the expense of the unprecedented advances this budget makes in fighting poverty and disease abroad."

The church leaders cited their specific domestic concerns as:

* Nutrition programmes: "Termination of food assistance to 440,000 low-income seniors in an average month" would result from the (proposed) cuts.

* Energy assistance: "Despite recent increases in the cost of heating and reaching only 23 percent of eligible households in FY '06, energy assistance to poor families, the elderly and the disabled would be cut."

* Children's health: "Allocated funds in the budget would not cover all those presently enrolled in SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Programme), much less expand coverage to eligible others."

* Child care: "Funding for child care for children in low- and moderate-income families would be frozen, even as inflation causes the cost of providing child care to rise."

* Head Start: "Funding cuts would leave programmes with the choice of reducing the number of children served or the quality of the programmes."

* Housing: "Programmes for the low-income, elderly and people with disabilities would be cut."

* Social services block grant: "Funds for states to provide basic services to vulnerable low-income children, seniors and people with disabilities would be cut."

* Health care: "Proposed 13 billion US dollar Medicaid cuts over five years would shift costs to states, that may result in their providing less health care for low-income beneficiaries."

"These cuts are especially disheartening when combined with the fading from view of the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma," said the letter. "We have forgotten all too quickly the stark portrait of poverty in America that emerged from those disasters."

The church leaders applauded increases in international assistance, including an "unprecedented" increase in funds to address HIV and AIDS to 5.4 billion US dollars; an increase in the Millennium Challenge Account to 3 billion dollars; and an increase for humanitarian and peacekeeping workin Sudan.

Quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew - "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" - the US church leaders concluded their letter, "It is our prayer that our federal budget will put our treasure into programmes that show our hearts to be compassionate and just. For in doing so, we will strengthen all of God's people and, in return, our nation."

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