President Donald Trump’s budget requests, although applauded for their pro-life measures, were largely met with concern from Catholic aid groups, particularly for their cuts to welfare programs and international aid.
“Rather than balancing the budget on the backs of those who are poor while shoring up military spending, our budgetary policies should reflect compassion for those most fragile and, at the same time, should allocate funds to protect safety and the common good," Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA, stated on Tuesday.
President Trump released his FY 2018 budget proposal “The New Foundation for American Greatness" on Tuesday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and an increase in immigration enforcement and border security funding.
To balance the budget over 10 years, these increases would supposedly be offset by cuts elsewhere, including to international aid, the State Department, a $191 billion cut in food stamp funding over 10 years, and cuts to other welfare programs.
The administration also announced a proposed budget increase in fighting the opioid epidemic, including “$12.1 billion for treatment and prevention efforts" and “$10.8 billion in treatment funding."
In anticipation of the budget proposal, leading U.S. bishops wrote Congress on Tuesday outlining their serious concerns. The goal of reducing the deficit was legitimate, they said, but such deficit reduction must include a comprehensive set of cuts and not just cuts in programs tailored for low-income groups while increasing spending in other areas.
Particularly concerning to them were cuts to international aid programs at a time when conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa threaten to destabilize whole regions, along with droughts and famines. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan, and three other countries are on the brink of famines.
Overall, the proposed cuts to diplomacy and development amount to almost $60 billion, Catholic Relief Services says.
“This budget also shifts attention to short-term ‘strategic’ issues and countries," Bill O’Keefe, vice president of advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, stated on Tuesday of the proposed cuts. “The danger is that problems elsewhere ignored today become the expensive strategic challenges our military has to address tomorrow."
“The people who say aid does not work should come stand in my shoes here in Somalia," said Mohamed Dahir, CRS’ country manager in Somalia. “They should talk to a woman who walked with her children for days and days, trying to escape drought, only to lose some of those children along the way."
“In previous droughts, people like her found water in the major rivers, but this drought is so bad even the rivers have dried up," Dahir said. “How can we abandon them – good, hardworking, innocent people who have done nothing wrong? Our aid not only brings them life, it brings them another commodity that is very precious in Somalia – hope.”
Cuts to diplomacy are also distressing, CRS and the bishops said, as the international community still has yet to come together to negotiate a peace to end the six year-long conflict in Syria.
Other Catholic aid groups largely were concerned over the domestic budget proposals.
Catholic Charities, USA “supports efforts to improve vital safety-net programs needed to move people out of poverty and protect life," Sister Donna Markham said.
Yet “the disastrous, albeit cruel, cuts to anti-poverty programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and jobs training will have a devastating effect on millions of vulnerable individuals and families who depend on them," she continued.
The Catholic Climate Covenant also expressed serious concerns about Trump’s proposed budget, calling the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency “dramatic and unwarranted" and saying that they hurt the poor.
This is because the EPA has done “excellent work" for the environment, “yet far too many families, especially in low-income and of color communities, live near heavily polluted areas such as Superfund and brownfields sites, incinerators and coal-fired power plants," the group explained.
Trump’s budget would cut programs having to do with clean-up of these areas and enforcement of environmental laws, rendering poor people in these communities more “vulnerable" to pollution.
“These cuts threaten the future of our children not only in the U.S. but around the world," Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, bishop liaison to the group’s board of directors, stated on Wednesday, pointing to cuts of programs working “to help reduce greenhouse gases, the major cause of the global warming we are experiencing."
“Pope Francis has made it clear that the threat of climate change demands that ‘the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay’," he said, quoting the encyclical Laudato Si’ paragraph 165.
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, however, approved of the proposal that funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, would be redirected to community health centers. That funding would be estimated at $422 million.
“We’re encouraged to see that the budget released today prevents federal funds from going to the nation’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood," the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated on Tuesday. “Taxpayers should not have to prop up Planned Parenthood’s failing, abortion-centered business model."
By Matt Hadro