Charities director warns of impact on poor, disadvantaged
As budget battles rage from the U.S. Capitol steps to nearly every statehouse, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas has weighed in to speak for those whose voice might otherwise not be heard.
The stakes are enormous, said Jan Lewis, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. Various proposals call for billions of dollars to be cut at the national level, and hundreds of millions for the individual states.
In Kansas, the state government is facing a $492 million shortfall in revenue for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1. As state and national legislators wrestle with how to bring spending under control, Catholic Charities is working feverishly to keep the faces and the stories of the individuals and families that they serve in the forefront, Lewis said.
“These people don’t work in industries with big lobby groups,” she said. “They don’t have the ability to travel to Washington, D.C. — or even Topeka — to protest a bill under consideration. They are our seniors, our unemployed and underemployed, and our children. If we, as the body of Jesus Christ, are not willing to speak up for our neighbors in need, who will?”
Time is running short for Catholic Charities and its sister agencies across the country to make a difference.
While both the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running, they only extended the debate until March 18, at which time they hope to present to the president a budget that both sides can agree on. The version, current as of this issue of The Leaven and passed by the House, contains major cuts to some of the longest-lived programs administered by Catholic Charities agencies.
For the past 35 years, Catholic Charities has been part of the Foster Grandparent Program, a federally funded initiative that connects low-income seniors with young children. The seniors are trained and then deployed to child care centers and schools in Wyandotte County where they work with children in the classrooms. In addition to improved reading scores, the primary outcome measure, the grandparents provide an extra measure of love to these children who may not have the opportunity to interact with their own grandparents. In return, the foster grandparents receive a small stipend that helps them make ends meet. The program is slated for complete elimination.
“Locally, the program provides about $425,000 in stipend payments to the 85 Wyandotte County seniors who participate, which helps them to pay for things like prescriptions, medical supplies and even food and electricity,” said Lewis.
“But the even greater loss is that 94,000 hours of service would be pulled from local schools and day cares,” she continued. “Over the past 35 years, the program has impacted the lives of over 52,000 at-risk and special-needs children in our community. How are our schools going to replace that?”
When news of the potential cuts was announced, one foster grandparent said, “I will miss my children. They help me along and we help each other.”
The Refugee and Migrant program is facing a 50-percent cut. This humanitarian effort resettles refugees coming out of camps around the world. Also receiving cuts is the Emergency Food and Shelter program, which last year helped keep 775 area residents safely housed when they faced foreclosure or eviction.
One of the individuals that the EFS program assisted was a nurse who had suffered a personal injury and was in a coma for several weeks. Because of lost wages and her extended hospital stay, she was being evicted from her home. Through the Emergency Food and Shelter program, Catholic Charities was able to help her save her home. She has now returned to work and is on the road to both physical and financial recovery.
“This could have been me, or a close friend or family member,” said Lewis. “What if that support had not been there?”
Lewis worries this program might not be there in the future. The current cuts being proposed at the federal level could result in nearly $900,000 lost funding for these programs.
“While those are big numbers, it isn’t the money that worries me,” said Lewis. “It is the people we will no longer be able to help.”
Catholic social teaching states that “a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring,” said Lewis. “In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the last judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
Lewis said that in recent letters to Congress, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., and Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., called on legislators to look for solutions that do not attempt to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad” and to recognize that “in times of economic crisis, the poor and vulnerable are in greater need of assistance, not less.”
To learn more about the impact of these budget decisions, visit the Catholic Charities Web site at: www.catholic charitiesks.org. To be a voice for those who have no voice, contact your elected officials in Washington by visiting the Web sites at: www.senate.gov or www.house.gov. For issues related to the Kansas budget, visit the Web site at: www.kansas.gov, where you will also find links to your state officials’ offices.