Catholic leaders caution that federal budget must reflect common good

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WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders cautioned that federal spending must safeguard the common good after the White House released its fiscal year 2019 spending plan that boosts military spending and cuts human services, environmental protection, diplomacy and international humanitarian assistance while assuring that the budget deficit will grow over the next decade.

The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees joined Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA officials in expressing concern that the proposed budget disproportionately cuts programs assisting the poor and elderly, placing human life and dignity in danger.

The White House plan, "Efficient, Effective Accountable: An American Budget," proposes slashing federal spending by billions of dollars on food stamps, federal housing vouchers and health care for the poorest Americans even as defense spending would rise by tens of billions of dollars.

Others set for elimination include the Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion), Community Services Block Grant ($715 million) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. ($3.4 billion).

"Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give importance to 'the least of these' and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote in a statement Feb. 13.

"Our nation must never seek to balance the budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad," the statement said in calling on Congress and all Americans "to evaluate the administration's budget blueprint in light of its impacts on those most in need."

The White House budget is unlikely to be adopted. Congress adopted a two-year budget plan as part of the latest stopgap spending measure passed early Feb. 9 after a brief government shutdown.

While the measure only funds the government through March 23, it included a broad spending outline covering two fiscal years. It kept social services spending largely intact while giving the president his much-desired increase in funding for the armed forces.

Congress still must write an omnibus spending bill to keep the government in operation through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2018.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for CRS, said that the agency's concerns center primarily on the administration's proposal to reduce funding for international humanitarian aid, especially the elimination of food assistance. 

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