State, National Faith Leaders to Congress: "Don't Push the Poor and Vulnerable Off the 'Fiscal Cliff'"

November 29, 2012

Faith leaders from 16 states join the heads of numerous national religious organizations to stop deep cuts to programs that help the most vulnerable

– November 29, 2012 –

WASHINGTON – Senior religious officials from 16 states joined the heads of some of the nation’s most prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations today to tell the Obama Administration and Congress, “Don’t push the poor and most vulnerable off the ‘fiscal cliff.'”

In meetings with congressional leaders and budget negotiators today, the religious officials reminded lawmakers that the deficit was caused as a result of inadequate revenue, an unnecessary level of military spending and a recession that has pushed even more people into poverty. They warned that significant cuts in any budget deal to vital humanitarian and poverty-focused assistance programs such as International Development, Disaster Assistance and Food Aid programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, low-income housing assistance, Head Start, and other initiatives, could result in increased poverty. In addition, the religious leaders asked legislators not to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security that place an additional burden on vulnerable Americans or those living in poverty or that cause more people to fall into poverty.

Members of the faith community organized today’s meetings as part of a multi-denominational and interreligious effort to “speak the truth” about the deficit and to ensure congressional leaders do not preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while pushing more people into poverty.

Religious officials from Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia as well as the District of Columbia attended.

At a media briefing discussing their efforts, the religious leaders noted that the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families have been lost in the public debate, which is pitting the nation’s middle class against the country’s wealthiest. The religious leaders said they are speaking up now to ensure that the needs of those who did the least to create the country’s deficit problems, but who may suffer the most because of it, are not ignored.

The faith community is working through a number of national campaigns, including the Faithful Budget Campaign, Nuns on the Bus, African American Voices for Africa, and the Circle of Protection, to lift-up the nation’s moral obligation to protect the poor and vulnerable, and to ask Congress and the Administration to follow the religious imperative to promote the general welfare of all individuals in the United States and around the world.

Statements from some of the participants in the faith-based effort to stop deep cuts to programs that help the most vulnerable:

Rev. Joiquim Barnes, Board Secretary, South Carolina Christian Action Council, and Pastor, New Hope CME Church in Lexington, South Carolina:

“Our elected leaders have an awesome responsibility to put their political differences aside and make a decision as to whether or not they will remember those who are in dire need of help. This is not a time to play politics as usual with folks’ lives. We are guided by the spirit that we are to help the least of these and it is the government’s responsibility to live up to that expectation.”

Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio:

“The truth is that this deficit is the result of inadequate revenue, rising military spending, and a recession that has pushed more people into poverty. Families struggling at the economic margins should not pay the price for solving a deficit they did not create. They have suffered enough. We must act in the best tradition of religious values and American compassion by seeking a solution that does not push the poor and vulnerable over the fiscal cliff! We will keep this Congress in our prayers throughout the season of Advent.”

Dr. Marian McClure Taylor, Executive Director, Kentucky Council of Churches, Lexington, Kentucky:

“Churches and other faith groups value the close mission relationships we enjoy all over the world, where we see US foreign development aid saving lives, making friends and helping people build peace. We pray we won’t have to tell these far-flung friends in need that our government ceased to match our private generosity.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C.:

“It is simply not acceptable that deficit reduction might increase the burden on those struggling the most in our communities. It is intolerable that debt reduction should come on the backs of the poorest among us, that it increases poverty or inequality.”

Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent, Jr., Board Chair, Church World Service and Senior Pastor, Florida Avenue Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.:

“Our concern is that Congress and the President in their focus on the fiscal cliff do not become deaf to the cries of those in need, but that they faithfully protect the defenseless, the vulnerable and the powerless here in the U.S. and abroad.”

Sister Deb Troillett, RSM, Leadership Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Little Rock, Arkansas:

“We don’t have a budget crisis in this country. There’s plenty of money. We have a values crisis, a priorities crisis. If Congress cuts back on even the tiny portion–less than 1% of our budget–that we give for humanitarian and poverty programs, this would be a terrible message to give. We as religious, call on our country’s leaders to not push the most marginalized peoples off the “fiscal cliff,” but rather to uphold the values that are at the heart of our national strength: compassion, fairness, and treating every life on this precious earth of ours with dignity and reverence. Unnecessary military spending, as one example, can be shifted to enable resources to address the crying needs in our world.”

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