Poverty in U.S. moral wound on soul of the nation, Catholic Charities prez tells Congress
WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) – The depth and breadth of widespread and long-term poverty in the United States is a moral and social wound on the soul of the nation, said the head of the Catholic social-service agency network which is one of the largest such private groups in the country.
In April 26 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee’s Income Security and Family Support subcommittee, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said that, while the U.S. “economy as a whole prospers,” poverty’s scourge worsens and widens and reflects “the failures of structures that we put in place through the economic and political choices we make as a nation.”
“The fact that this powerful economy is leaving so many behind is a sign that something in our social and economic system is seriously broken,” he said.
“Poverty in the United States is a human-made disaster,” Father Snyder told House members. “It is not a force of nature beyond our control; rather it is the result of economic, social, and political choices that we Americans have made, both as individuals and as a society.”
Father Snyder’s testimony was given as part of a concerted day-long effort by Catholic Charities USA to focus attention on the need for action on poverty and hunger and to bring its “Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America” directly to Congress.
A press briefing on the struggles of 35 million Americans who experience hunger, visits to U.S. congressional offices by local Catholic Charities agency leaders, a full-page advertisement in Roll Call and a virtual march on Washington in which people from around the country contacted their members of Congress also were a part of the day’s events.
The Catholic Charities’ Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America seeks to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020, specifically urging improving food and nutrition programs, increasing access to health care, enabling more people to get affordable housing and promoting greater economic security for the poor and vulnerable through programs that support work and strengthen families.
Father Snyder in his congressional testimony charged that the federal government has reduced the resources provided to assist those who are impoverished. “There has been a conscious and deliberate retreat from our nation’s commitment to economic justice for those who are poor.”
“Poverty remains our nation’s most serious political blind spot and remains a threat to the common good and the future strength of our nation,” he said.
Communities across the United States are witnessing “the suffering of children” who lack access to health care and good nutrition, working families that must “hold down two and three jobs just to make ends meet” and senior citizens “dehumanized and demoralized when they have to choose between utilities and food," Father Snyder noted, pointing to the increase of more than 5 million Americans falling into poverty since 2000 after several years of the poverty rate’s decline.
“Today more than 37 million Americans live in poverty,” he said. “This is a moral crisis for a country as wealthy as the United States.”
He pointed to the “many misconceptions” about poverty that “reinforce the commonly held view that poverty is due to failures and deficiencies of individuals.”
“Through our daily work at Catholic Charities agencies across our country, we see the impact of poverty on families,” he said. “While it is true that individual choices and behaviors do influence one’s chances of living in poverty, these individual behaviors are frequently outweighed by the structures and policies that shape the opportunities of people who are poor.”
In his testimony, Father Snyder said that government programs to help those living in poverty must be strengthened, and he called on Congress and the Bush Administration to give a higher priority to the needs of society’s most vulnerable when making choices and decisions about policies and allocation of federal money. Specifically, he encouraged members of the committee to support policies that:
- Improve the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to create more opportunities for low-income families;
- Strengthen the federal commitment to children in the child welfare system;
- Strengthen two parent families, by creating more comprehensive policies to support low-income fathers;
- Improve the child-care program;
- Index the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation;
- Bolster unemployment insurance to benefit more low-income workers; and
- Promote long-term economic security and asset building.
According to Father Snyder, Catholic Charities USA is committed to a long-term effort to reduce poverty in America, but needs Congress, the Administration, and the American people to join in the effort. “Catholic Charities agencies have had a long history of serving and advocating on behalf of those who live in poverty. We will continue to fight for policy changes that provide more opportunities for more Americans. We believe we must cut poverty in half to make our ...
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