Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, speaks during a stop on the first day of a nine-state Nuns on the Bus tour, on June 18, 2012, in Ames, Iowa. The group of Roman Catholic nuns say they’re not opposing any particular candidate but that their fight is with a Republican proposed federal budget they say hurts the poor and needy. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (A
For more than 41 years, NETWORK has worked with people at the economic margins to help ensure that all voices are heard on Capitol Hill. We do this as an expression of our Catholic faith.
We have been strengthened in our ministry by the recent words of Pope Francis: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” He is not the first to say this, of course. Many generations of Catholic leaders have challenged governments and societies to do more to alleviate suffering caused by poverty.
This is also not just a Catholic concern. For two years, the interfaith community here in Washington, D.C. has worked to craft a “Faithful Budget” that brings concern for the common good, economic responsibility, and values of different faiths to the federal budgetary process. A “faithful” budget is a moral budget, one that serves everyone—including those in poverty.
It is tempting to think of “poverty” in stereotypes. People forget that 61 percent of people in poverty are in working families. Thirteen percent are seniors, and 10 percent are people with disabilities and their children.
We will soon mark the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty.” Some want to draw a straight line between 1964 and today, saying nothing has worked because poverty continues. They would have us believe that government programs have only made problems worse. That is wrong.
Programs like SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), housing assistance and child care assistance reduce the suffering caused by poverty and help families make ends meet. They save lives by providing healthcare for those in need. They reduce hunger and stabilize families and communities. They improve children’s school performance. In short, they make our nation better.
During our journeys as “Nuns on the Bus,” we witnessed firsthand what this kind of public support means.
For example, we met Billy in Milwaukee. He and his wife have jobs, but their hours were cut back during the recession. Their combined salaries keep a roof over the heads of their two boys, but there is little left over for food and other necessities. These hardworking parents use SNAP to put food on their table during the day and a church dining room for dinner. Billy told me it was okay for a parent to eat just once or twice a day, but that wasn’t right for growing kids.
In Iowa, we met Tia, 19-year-old homeless mother who had survived a harsh childhood. She had made her way to a shelter run by Catholic sisters and would soon be moving to transitional housing. She had learned to cook and be a better mother. She had earned her GED, was working part-time and studying in community college to become an LVN. Her progress was due to federal programs that helped fund the shelter and transitional housing, and because of SNAP and a Pell grant along with the love and care of the Sisters and staff.
In Ohio last year, we met the family of Margaret, who had just died. She had lost her job during the 2008 recession. With no job, she had no health insurance, and she couldn’t afford COBRA coverage. She knew she was at risk for colon cancer but couldn’t afford the screenings. When seen in an emergency room, she was already terminally ill. She died at age 56.
Her death is why the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is critical. Had it been fully implemented in 2010, Margaret could have received screening and treatment, and been a contributing member of society today. Today, tragically, there are those who would dismantle healthcare reform and refuse federal funding for Medicaid expansion. In short, those actions would cause more Margarets to die.
For me, the expansion of healthcare is a pro-life issue. But it is also good economics.
These are three real U.S. citizens. Margaret contributed to her community, but she died because she didn’t have access to a key service that will soon be available to many more. Billy and Tia strive to raise their families and contribute to their neighborhoods. They have used federal programs to improve their situations and give stability to their children.
In this richest nation on earth, we do not suffer from scarcity of resources for government programs meant to help them. We suffer only from a lack of political will to do what is right and compassionate.
Jesus demanded that if we are to follow in his way, we must respond to those in need not just out of charity, but also in justice.
The framers of our Constitution called on “we the people” to strive to form a more perfect union. That is what we must do if we are to lighten the yoke of poverty and provide for the common good. Successful programs must be enhanced because people need them, and, as the interfaith community acknowledges in the Faithful Budget, we the people must responsibly raise revenue to pay for these important programs. That is the faithful and patriotic path to the future.
Sister Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby www.networklobby.org and leader of NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus www.nunsonthebus.org. On July 31, she is testifying before the House Budget Committee, chaired by Representative Paul Ryan. This is an adapted version of her testimony.