Bishops say health, retirement reforms should not contribute to poverty

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Reforms in health and retirement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security must not increase poverty or economic hardship among the people they are designed to help, the chairman of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committees said in a letter to Congress.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, cautioned in the April 22 letter against shifting the cost of such programs to or diminishing benefits of vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities and the poor.

“There are policy options that have the potential to raise adequate revenues for these programs while protecting beneficiaries and we challenge you to explore those options,” the bishops wrote.

The letter comes as Congress continues to weigh a final spending plan for fiscal year 2014. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have adopted overall budget resolutions. President Barack Obama also sent proposed budget plan for 2014 to Congress, but no action has been taken on it.

Bishop Blaire and Bishop Pates said they were not offering a detailed critique of the president’s budget proposal but were offering their views on proposals that affect poverty and basic human needs.

They also reiterated the oft-repeated mantra that “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts to programs that help people live in a manner worthy of their human dignity” and repeated their call for a circle of protection around poor and vulnerable people.

At the same time, the bishops said, “the president should be commended for his concern for those living or near poverty, especially children and families.” They supported the president’s plan for funding early childhood education, capitalizing the National Housing Trust Fund, reforming child support and fatherhood initiatives to encourage fathers to become more involved in their children’s lives and increasing mental health services.

“The moral measure of this budget debate is not which part wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless and poor are treated,” the bishops concluded. “Their voices are too often missing, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.

“The bishops stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good and promotes human life and dignity.”

Editor’s Note: The full text of the bishops’ letter can be read online at