An elderly woman lives on a very tight fixed income. She depends on food stamps to provide enough food so that she can pay for her rent and medical expenses.
A married man with four children loses his job. His unemployment compensation has run out and he relies on receiving government help for rental assistance and buying food for his family.
These are real situations facing real people. In fact, recent statistics show that one in two Americans are living at or near the poverty level. That means up to 50 million Americans are poor, the highest number since the Census Bureau began tracking poverty rates in 1959.
But despite the growing numbers of poor people — many of them formerly considered “middle class” — we aren’t hearing much about poverty in the current political campaign. It seems to be an issue that everyone is avoiding like the plague.
Everyone except the U.S. Catholic bishops, that is.
Lone voice for the poor
The Catholic bishops are almost the lone voice expressing concern about the poor. I was happy to hear the bishops praised for their concern about poverty on a recent show on National Public Radio (NPR).
Princeton professor Cornel West and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, co-authors of the new book The Rich and the Rest of Us (Smiley Books), mentioned that the Catholic bishops are about the only ones standing up for the poor in our country today. West and Smiley blame both political parties for not addressing the issues of poverty, which they say will be helped only by massive jobs programs and more investment in education and housing.
Concerned about proposed cuts
During April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed concern over proposed cuts in national and international programs serving the poorest and most vulnerable people in a series of letters to congressional leaders, reported Catholic News Service. The letters urged Congress to draw a “circle of protection” around programs that serve the least among us.
One letter was sent after the House of Representatives adopted a $3.5 trillion budget resolution calling for massive spending cuts in nonmilitary programs. The bishops in their letters emphasized the need for “shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues.” They also urged the elimination of unnecessary military and other spending and fairly addressing long-term costs associated with health insurance and retirement.
The bishops worry that cutting funds for such things as housing programs “could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.” They opposed proposed cuts in food stamps, which will harm hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors, and workers who cannot find employment.
“These cuts are unjustified and wrong,” wrote Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human development.
The role of Christians
We know that Christ himself loved the poor and encouraged his disciples to feed, clothe, and help the poor. It seems that Christians today differ on how we should help the poor. Our churches are doing wonderful charitable work in helping those in need. Catholic Charities and organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul help the poor in so many ways.
Charitable outreach is important and must be continued. However, we still need government assistance for those in need at the local, state, and national levels to maintain that “circle of protection.”
The poor themselves rarely have lobbyists to help them. It’s up to us as concerned citizens and voters to make sure our government officials and candidates for public office remember the poor in their programs and platforms — and hold them accountable for what they promise to do.