Blog: Putting People First in Our Budget Crisis

Rachel Schmidt
Oct 13, 2015

The federal budget is a complicated piece of legislation, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. “Wonky” data, words like “sequestration,” and polarized political parties are enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over. However, the budget is not merely something elected officials tend to busy themselves with. It is essential to bring about the common good, the development and fulfillment of all people in society, by creating a faithful budget.

Too often in budget negotiations, Congress neglects to bring forth the faces and stories of people who are intimately affected by cuts to human needs programs. It’s easy to get lost in the ideology of politics and deficit reduction, but like Pope Francis insists, “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” Therefore, it is critical that we do not lose sight of the real issue:  the federal budget is a tool that must faithfully serve the common good.

The political landscape has made finalization of the federal budget difficult. Initially, the fear was that sequestration would take place. Sequestration means that programs, both on the defense and non-defense discretionary sides of the budget, are automatically cut once previously established budget limits are reached. In theory, sequestration was supposed to be too horrible to go into effect, but in reality, the threat of this austerity measure is becoming more commonplace. In recent years budget negotiations have led to the government shutting down, programs being stopped, and government workers not being paid. It’s these political games that endanger the wellbeing of people in the most vulnerable situations, who rely on safety net programs funded from the non-defense discretionary side of the budget.

Congress had a deadline to approve the Fiscal Year 2016 budget by September 30 in order to keep the government fully operational for the next year. They did not actually come to a final decision by this time. Instead, they passed what’s called a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide short-term funding through December 11 and put off addressing the real issue of planning for the next fiscal year. Now, as the December deadline approaches, we must be diligent in requiring Congress to commit to funding a faithful budget that serves the common good.

Again, it’s important to remember that a budget is about more than just numbers; it’s about people. To learn more about how this affects real people, watch these two stories from our friends at Witnesses to Hunger:

This story of Jahzaire Sutton shows the stress and impact budget negotiations can have on small children. It is unbelievable that in the United States a mother has to go hungry so her children can eat. Cuts to the program, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could be disastrous for families like Jahzaire’s. Since 2010, WIC has been cut 17.4%.

Jahzaire’s mother is already skipping meals. Do we want Jahzaire and his younger siblings to go hungry too? As a society, are we willing to do what it takes for the future of our children? When Congress makes a commitment to providing for the common good, people like Jahzaire’s mother won’t have to go hungry anymore.

This story of Tianna Gaines Turner shows how a family could rely upon several programs funded by the government due to economic hardship or medical needs. Cuts across the board can mean that Tianna’s family won’t have access to as many resources for health, utilities, and food, which are necessary for day-to-day living. For example, Community Health Centers  have already been cut nearly 40 percent in the last five years. We aren’t going to reduce our deficit by more cuts to human needs programs that have already been decimated.

Tianna was vulnerable enough to share her own experiences of having to make these choices in testimony before the Ways and Means Committee of Congress to enumerate to importance of not making cuts to the federal budget; they better listen! How will you do what it takes to make sure Congress remembers that people’s lives are at stake with these budget negotiations?

Unfortunately, Congress is more interested in increasing funding for the defense budget than making sure families like Jahzaire’s and Tianna’s are cared for. Confusing terms, political jargon, and party politics cannot be excuses to ignore the importance of a faithful budget that fully-funds human needs programs for all families who need support from society. We must answer Pope Francis’s call to encounter and stay connected to people and their stories to keep perspective. We must uphold these values as responsible residents of the United States. We must require that our legislators not forget the development and fulfillment of all people in society.

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