Category Archives: Taxes

President Biden in front of a microphone

Centering Solidarity and Healing for Our Democracy

Centering Solidarity and Healing for Our Democracy

A Response to President Biden’s 2022 State of the Union
Mary J. Novak
March 3, 2022

President Biden in front of a microphoneIn his 2022 State of the Union, President Joe Biden addressed people across the country who are anxious and weary as Vladimir Putin threatens the use of nuclear force in his quest for more power and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shatter a sense of normalcy, claiming close to one million lives in this country alone. President Biden named the pain felt by families and recommitted himself to supporting policies that benefit all families and communities. This vision is grounded in his faith, which prioritizes community and solidarity over individualism and greed. He illuminated a path forward for our national community, marked by dismantling long-standing racist policies and building both a vibrant economy that prioritizes shared prosperity and a truly representative, multi-racial democracy.

Shaping an Economy Rooted in Solidarity

In this time of increasing economic stratification, President Biden spoke forcefully about the need to reorient our economy with a new economic vision built on respecting and protecting the rights of workers and putting people over profits. Given rising costs facing families, his statement: “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation” likely resonated with many listeners. We know that ensuring jobs pay a living wage is one of the most effective ways we can uphold the dignity of work. I appreciated hearing the President’s call to raise the minimum wage and for the Senate to pass the PRO Act to protect workers’ right to unionize.

Building Anew and Protecting the Sacred Right to Vote

President Biden’s commitments to advancing just policies in NETWORK’s Build Anew policy areas are deeply rooted in the faith values of solidarity, community, respecting the rights of workers, and caring for creation; they include strengthening our democracy and voting rights; making our tax code more just; and, investing in communities by expanding the Child Tax Credit, affordable housing, and healthcare for all. NETWORK strongly supports these efforts to build a more justice union and looks forward to partnering with the Biden administration to achieve these goals. Together, we still have a great amount of work to be done, including passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but we know it is possible by working together.

Confirming a New Supreme Court Justice

Another important step for protecting the rights of everyone in our county will be the Senate voting to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court Justice. The NETWORK community celebrates Judge Jackson’s nomination and the perspective she will bring to the highest court because of her years of service on the federal district court of D.C. and D.C. Circuit as well as her formative service as a public defender.

Defending the Lives of Immigrants and Asylum Seekers

While we commend President Biden clear commitments to advancing just policies for our economy and democracy, we continue to call on the President to be bold in his defense of asylum seekers at our nation’s Southern border. The President was mindful in his speech about the importance of welcoming refugees fleeing Ukraine. Likewise, we call on the President to meet that mission here. Pope Francis has said each person seeking refuge “has a name, a face and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future.” We ask President Biden to take heed of those words and end the cruel and unjust policies that he is perpetuating at the border, and end detention and deportation.

President Biden, our nation’s second Catholic President, often credits the Jesuits and Catholic Sisters with keeping his faith strong. The vision he laid out in his State of the Union reflects a roadmap to rebuilding solidarity, based in encounter. As President Biden said “We can’t change how divided we’ve been. But we can change how we move forward—on COVID-19 and other issues we must face together.”  If we want to rebuild the soul of the nation, we must rebuild it together, with a broad embrace of our human family.

A Catholic President at One Year

A Catholic President at One Year

Mary J. Novak
January 20, 2022

In January 2021, NETWORK celebrated the historic inauguration of the United States’ second Catholic President and first female Vice President “heartened by the administration’s focus on racial equity and economic justice.” Let us take a closer look at how their leadership has lived up to our values of Catholic Social Justice.

The first year of the Biden administration has largely been a series of responses to the crises that surfaced during the previous administration. These included the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, racist policies enacted at the U.S.-Mexico border, and growing distrust in our elections, which has led to the passage of restrictive voting legislation across the country.

In March 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan – a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package – into law. It provided relief to families in the form of healthcare, rental assistance, housing vouchers, access to food programs, and other benefits. It also expanded Child Tax Credit payments and made the credit fully refundable, meaning that families most struggling from poverty had access to monthly payments of cash through December of last year.

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan was an incredible achievement, providing millions of families funds that they used for necessities including housing, food, clothing, utilities, and education, and living up to NETWORK’s values of supporting families’ economic security. However, if the credit’s refundability is allowed to expire this March, 65 million kids will pay the price.

The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last November – with its investments in broadband internet, climate-friendly public transit, and clean water –  was an important step toward building our country anew. Unfortunately, the Build Back Better Act – the administration’s landmark proposal to invest our nation’s families and communities – has stalled in the Senate. So have efforts to protect voting rights, which President Biden said should be passed even if it required a Senate rules change in the form of altering or eliminating the filibuster. Given the filibuster’s racist history, NETWORK fully supports this call.

A major disappointment for the NETWORK community has been President Biden’s failure to roll back the previous administration’s cruel and xenophobic border policies: the Migrant Protection Protocols and the misuse of Title 42. Under these measures and in violation of international law, asylum seekers are either expelled from the U.S. without being allowed to claim asylum or being turned away and told to wait in Mexico while they await their pending court dates. Both of these policies are resulting in assaults and significant harm against our siblings seeking asylum.

In solidarity with migrant-led organizations, President Biden’s continuation of these unjust border policies brought over 80 Catholic Sisters to Washington in early December to process prayerfully past the White House to protest these policies. In 2022, President Biden must significantly shift his administration’s border policies to align with our faith teaching to “love our neighbor.”

Every year of our 50-year existence, NETWORK has analyzed the voting records of Members of Congress, but we have never reflected on one year of a Catholic president’s administration. This is certainly a significant milestone for Catholic justice-seekers, even as the lived reality has included both progress and setbacks for our justice agenda.

President Biden has credited Jesuits and Catholic Sisters with keeping him Catholic, and he has taken office at a time when the vision of a Jesuit – Pope Francis – and the witness of Catholic Sisters offer him a roadmap to rebuilding solidarity, based in encounter. NETWORK advocates for policies that center people who have been pushed to the margins by our systems and structures. And Pope Francis calls us, individually and at the structural level, to seek out, encounter, and integrate those living on the periphery.

Joe Biden is the son of a working class Catholic family who prides himself on remembering his roots. The clear moral measure for his administration going forward is whether it has prioritized the struggles of individuals and families over powerful interests, whether at the border, the ballot box, or simply their day-to-day efforts to stay safe and healthy.

Transforming our politics from a system that upholds the status quo to one that honors the dignity of every person requires dismantling systemic racism, cultivating inclusive communities, and rooting our economy in solidarity. One year into the Biden administration, we can see with greater clarity than ever just how daunting these challenges are and how much work we have to do. We call on President Biden to join us in this necessary transformation.

Advent 2021: Celebrate the Alleviation of Child Poverty

Advent 2021: Celebrate the Alleviation of Child Poverty

Sister Eilis McCulloh, HM
December 10, 2021

The Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete “rejoice” Sunday – pink candle) symbolizes Joy with the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus. As part of NETWORK’s ongoing Advent reflection series, Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Fellow, shares how cutting child poverty via federal policy is one cause for rejoicing this year:

This Advent, Celebrate the Alleviation of Child Poverty

At Christmas, God appears to us as a defenseless child. In the U.S., child poverty threatens millions of children. Children are a source of joy, hope, and renewal in every life they touch. Their existence should not be marked by such suffering, and as followers of Jesus, we should answer their cry with action. Happily, in March of this year, that’s exactly what happened.

The American Rescue Plan of 2021, which NETWORK supported, made the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, meaning families who qualified for the credit have received direct payments from the government rather than having the amount counted toward their taxes at the end of the year. Those payments have reduced child poverty in the U.S. by 40 percent! The majority of the children who benefitted are children of color.

We know that the Child Tax Credit has brought stability to children whose lives have been rocked by instability, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the direct payments, families have been able to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and pay utility bills and, as a result, their children are able to focus more fully on school. This has the power to affect an entire generation of children.

As NETWORK prepares to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our founding, we can look to this success as an example of the vision that animated the Catholic Sisters who gathered in Washington one cold December weekend with a vision of politics transformed by the belief that the federal government can create legislation that serves the common good. Half a century later, Pope Francis shares this vision, writing in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti that politics are “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity.”

NETWORK will always seek this highest form of charity – better translated as love – such as in our continued lobbying for the Build Back Better bill and its provisions that will serve families, such as the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and the four weeks of paid family leave and medical leave. This Advent, let us prepare for the arrival of Jesus by making our country a more hospitable place for all children. That’s something worth celebrating!

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What’s In the Latest Build Back Better Framework?

What’s In the Latest Build Back Better Framework?

Audrey Carroll
November 10, 2021

On October 28, President Biden unveiled the framework for his Build Back Better Plan. The $1.75 trillion package includes key provisions such as permanent refundability of the Child Tax Credit, closing the Medicaid coverage gap in the 12 non-expansion states, a $150 billion investment in affordable housing and vouchers, $100 billion for immigration system reforms, four weeks of paid family leave, and more.


Here’s a breakdown of the NETWORK priorities included in the Build Back Better framework:

Health Care

*Expand Medicaid coverage in 12 non-expansion states
*Address the Black maternal health crisis

The $130 billion health care investments in the Build Back Better framework will expand Medicaid coverage to 4 million uninsured people in 12 non-expansion states. Medicaid expansion will help elders, rural communities, low-income communities, and other folks with health care accessibility issues receive care. Also included in the package are historic maternal health equity investments to address the Black maternal health crisis.

Tax Credits

*Permanent refundability of the Child Tax Credit
*One-year extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit

The proposed Build Back Better framework includes permanent refundability of the Child Tax Credit, and will provide more than 35 million households with the expanded Child Tax Credit of up to $3,600 per child for one year. Full refundability of the Child Tax Credit means that low-income families who do not typically file a tax return will still qualify for the credit and get the support they need.

The framework also extends the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit for about 17 million low-wage workers. The American Rescue Plan tripled the credit for childless workers, many who  are essential workers, and the Build Back Better framework will extend this provision to work towards alleviating poverty.


*$150 billion for housing investments including: $25 billion in new rental assistance; $65 billion to preserve public housing infrastructure; and $15 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund 

President Biden’s plan would invest $150 billion in housing affordability, especially for rural communities. These investments will fund more than 1 million new affordable homes, rental assistance, public housing, and expand housing vouchers to hundreds of thousands of families in the U.S. This is one of the biggest affordable housing investments in history and will help eliminate the racial wealth and income gap by allowing first-generation homebuyers to build wealth.

Paid Leave

*Four weeks of paid family and medical leave

After initially being gutted from the original Build Back Better framework, four weeks of paid family and medical leave is now included thanks to the tireless advocacy of workers and families across the country. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without a national paid family and medical leave program. A federal paid leave program will allow low-income workers and workers of color to access paid leave for the first time. Workers will no longer have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or their family members.


*Reforms to our immigration systems
*Work permits and deportation protection for undocumented people in the U.S. 10 years or longer

The Build Back Better framework includes a $100 billion investment for immigration systems reforms, contingent on a Senate parliamentarian ruling. While the current framework includes access to work permits and deportation protections for nearly 7 million undocumented people living in the U.S. for a decade or longer, it disappointingly does not include a pathway to citizenship Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers, and other essential workers despite strong bipartisan support.

Additional Investments in Children, Families, and Our Communities

In addition to these NETWORK priorities, additional investments the Build Back Better plan will establish universal and free preschool for more than 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds, expand access to high-quality, affordable child care, improve Medicaid coverage for home care services for seniors and people with disabilities while improving the quality of caregiving jobs, and provide $550 billion of investments in clean energy and other climate change initiatives.

How will the Build Back Better plan be paid for?

The Build Back Better plan will be paid for by requiring ultra-wealthy millionaires and billionaires and corporations to pay their fair share. The framework reverses some of the 2017 Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy to raise revenue for families and workers in the U.S. The tax justice provisions include:

  • A surtax of 5% on personal income above $10 million, and 3% on income above $25 million.
  • A 15% minimum tax on corporate profits of large corporations with over $1 billion in profits.
  • A 1% tax on stock buybacks.
  • A 50% minimum tax on foreign profits of U.S. corporations.
  • Closing loopholes that allow wealthy taxpayers to avoid Medicare taxes, and more.

Unfortunately, the Billionaires Income Tax was left out of the framework. With the tax changes in the Build Back Better framework, we will raise more than enough revenue to pay for the $1.75 trillion plan.

It’s time to pass Build Back Better!

The Build Back Better framework outlines transformational investments in workers and families that will work towards eliminating the racial wealth and income gap and building a new, equitable society. The framework falls short by not including a pathway to citizenship, but is overall a significant step towards dismantling systemic racism in our federal systems. House Democrats are currently working on moving the Build Back Better plan across the finish line before the end of the year. Email your Representative today or dial 888-738-3058 to call your Representative and tell them you support the Build Back Better framework!

Legislative Update: Build Back Better

Our Work to Pass Build Back Better Continues

Julia Morris
November 9, 2021

While we have been talking about the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill (H.R.3684) and Build Back Better Act for months, last Friday, the Bipartisan Infrastructure package passed the House and became law and a deal was struck between moderates and progressives on Build Back Better. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure plan includes important investments in affordable housing, safe drinking water, and broadband access, we need Congress to also pass the social investments in the Build Back Better plan to support families and communities. You can read more about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal on the White House website. 

Together, both bills will make a spectacular investment to improve lives, create good union jobs, add a more sustainable environment, and more! Last week’s vote, agreeing on the rule for Build Back Better, will pave the way for investment in the care economy, a clean environment, and having the wealthiest pay more of their fair share for it all. 

Five Democrats: Representatives Ed Case (HI-1), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Stephanie Murphy (FL-7), Kathleen Rice (NY-4) and Kurt Schrader (OR-5); offered their tentative support for Build Back Better. If the cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is “consistent with the toplines for revenues and investments” outlined in the White House estimate, they will vote in support. With this commitment, the House went forward and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill. This is in large part thanks to the Congressional Black Caucus’s two-step solution: passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill along with the rule governing floor debate for Build Back Better (H.Res.774). 

NETWORK applauds President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, the Progressive Caucus and Moderates who are moving the whole package, both bills, forward.  Now, we urge Congress to vote before Thanksgiving to begin making transformational investments that prioritize vulnerable communities.  As the Build Back Better plan continues advancing in the House, we have to keep pressure on Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, neither of whom have yet to support the plan publicly. 

Make your voice heard! Join us in emailing the Senate and House to show your support for Build Back Better. 

Or write a letter to the editor supporting the Build Back Better plan here! 

As Pope Francis said at the beginning of the pandemic, “it is necessary to build tomorrow, look to the future, and for this we need the commitment, strength and dedication of all.” 

NETWORK Urges Representatives to vote YES on the Build Back Better Act

NETWORK Urges all Members of Congress to vote YES on the Build Back Better Act

Julia Morris
November 4, 2021

Ahead of a vote on the Build Back Better Act (H.R.5376), NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak sent a vote recommendation to the Hill urging Representatives to vote yes. This historic legislation reflects values inherent in Catholic Social Teaching as it embodies love of neighbor, care for vulnerable communities, and care for the earth. As importantly, this transformative bill requires those who have the most to contribute their fair share to advancing the common good.

The Build Back Better Act takes critical and necessary steps toward addressing long-standing injustices by:

  • Cutting childhood poverty in half by providing a permanently refundable Child Tax Credit and ensuring no worker is taxed into poverty by extending the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Expanding life-saving health care by closing the Medicaid coverage gap, investing in programs to end the Black maternal health crisis, extending premium tax credits to improve affordability for low-income workers and families, making the Childrens Health Insurance Program permanent, ensuring returning citizens have access to Medicaid, and making medicine more affordable.
  • Expanding Medicaid home care to keep older Americans and people with disabilities in their homes while paying care workers a fair wage.
  • Supporting working families navigate the challenges of raising children and taking care of loved ones when they are sick without risking their economic security by implementing a national paid family and medical leave program.
  •  Providing protections to some of our immigrant sisters and brothers.
  • Ensuring improved access to stable housing by expanding housing choice vouchers and invest in building new affordable housing; at the same time remediating years of deferred maintenance at public housing properties.
  • Closing the digital divide and expanding opportunity by making high-speed internet accessible and affordable for low-income urban and rural communities.

The time to act is now. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges all elected officials to seize this moment as a critical opportunity to act faithfully and make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and all communities.

Read NETWORK’s Vote Recommendation on Build Back Better Act (H.R.5376).

The Child Tax Credit is an Important Investment in American Families

The Child Tax Credit is an Important Investment in American Families

Julia Morris
October 28, 2021

The expanded Child Tax Credit is one of the most significant expansions of the social safety net the U.S. has had in decades and provides necessary assistance to millions of middle class families, and families living at or below the poverty line. This safety net expansion is essential. Nine in ten families qualify for the Child Tax Credit, supplementing up to $300 for each child, which played a major role in bolstering families struggling to afford food, clothes, and childcare in the pandemic.

This universally beneficial tax credit is in jeopardy, with Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Krysten Sinema (AZ) posing major threats to getting these essential funds to children in need despite the major success they’ve seen in their home states.

In September, 86% of West Virginians said the expanded Child Tax Credit made a “huge difference.” In Arizona, poverty rates would decrease by 45% if the Child Tax Credit was expanded.

As it stands now, the credit will only be expanded for one year, and it is not likely to be renewed in Congress again. Our economy is going to need longer than one year to recover — which will leave millions of families without the support they need.

In addition, Senator Manchin wants to impose strict work requirements for this bill. This ignores that wages are as low as they’ve ever been in American history. Putting in a hard days work in the United States is no longer a guarantee that you won’t live in poverty, leaving many parents to work two jobs — meaning they will have to pay for child care, which many can no longer afford. Let’s face it: raising children is work and strong families are the building block of our society.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are hoping to pass the Build Back Better plan by October 31. These next few days in Congress are critical.

NETWORK needs your support to pass one of the significant investments in our country to date.

Here are a few highlights of this bill:

  • Expansion of the Child Tax Credit
  • Lowering Child Care Costs – necessary as 120,000 children have lost caregivers in the pandemic
  • Lowering Higher Education Costs

All of these bold provisions are necessary to ensure a full economic recovery.  As Pope Francis said, recovery needs to be: “capable of generating new, more inclusive and sustainable solutions to support the real economy… and the universal common good, not a return to an unequal and unsustainable model of economic and social life, where a tiny minority of the world’s population owns half of its wealth.”

A budget is a reflection of our values, but past budgets have too often caused harm by underinvesting in our people and our communities. We at NETWORK know this from meeting and listening to families across the country who struggle to make ends meet every month or face impossible choices between paying for rent or paying for medicine.

Now is the time to show Congress your support; this is the final push we will need to get this passed.

You can write an email to tell your Senator to support Build Back Better here.

Or if you are a constituent of Sen. Sinema or Sen. Manchin, you can call them at 1-888-436-6478, to show your support for the bill.

Five Key Tax Reforms Needed to Build Back Better

Five Key Tax Reforms Needed to Build Back Better

Audrey Carroll
September 9, 2021

Right now, Congress is beginning markups of the Build Back Better bill. This recovery package offers once-in-a generation opportunities to invest in our families and communities and achieve the common good. We can fully finance critical policies that prioritize the needs of Black, Brown, AAPI, and Native American families and communities if the ultra-wealthy and tax-dodging corporations pay their fair share.


The Build Back Better Plan will be paid for by raising taxes on corporations and those earning over $400,000/year. Congress must responsibly finance a recovery package by reforming our federal tax code. Here are NETWORK’s key tax reform priorities for a faithful recovery in the Build Back Better plan:

Raise the corporate tax rate to at least 28%.

The 2017 Trump tax law cut the corporate tax rate from its long-standing level of 35% all the way down to 21%, far below what corporations had ever lobbied for. Raising it back to 28% will raise nearly $900 billion, enabling us to better invest in our families and communities.

Curb offshore corporate tax dodging.

The current tax code encourages corporations to outsource jobs and shift profits to tax havens because it taxes the foreign profits of U.S. firms at about half the domestic rate. The Build Back Better plan’s proposed reforms will take a big step to curb offshoring, raising more than $1 trillion, by doubling the tax rate on offshore profits and implementing reforms to stop shifting profits offshore to tax havens.

Tax wealth like work.

For people earning more than $1 million a year (the richest 0.3% of taxpayers), the plan will close the loophole that lets them pay a tax rate on the sale of stock and other assets that is almost half the top rate that workers pay on wages — 20% rather than the current 37%.

The plan also will close a loophole (called “stepped-up basis”) that lets millionaires and billionaires go their entire lives without having to pay federal taxes on most of their income or wealth. Taken together, these two loopholes allow billionaire Amazon chief Jeff Bezos to pay a tax rate similar to a public school teacher.

Restore the top individual tax rate.

The Build Back Better plan will restore the top individual rate to 39.6%, its rate before the Trump tax cuts. No one earning less than $400,000 a year will pay more tax.

Crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy.

Years of deep cuts to the IRS that resulted in much weaker tax enforcement of the wealthy and corporations must be reversed. The Build Back Better plan will invest in strengthening IRS enforcement and information technology and increase reporting of income to catch wealthy tax cheats.

An underfunded IRS focuses its audits on the regular taxpayers who can’t afford to fight back with expensive tax lawyers; an underfunded IRS also can’t offer robust customer support when regular taxpayers have questions or problems. A fully funded IRS has the resources to assist regular taxpayers with live customer support services while going after the biggest tax cheats.

Our communities need public investment in housing, paid family and medical leave, health care, and broadband technology that is racially, economically, and environmentally just. By reforming our tax code, we can afford much needed social programs that will help all people and families thrive.

A Catholic Argument for CTC Expansion: Combatting “Anti-Work” Rhetoric

A Catholic Argument for CTC Expansion: Combatting “Anti-Work” Rhetoric

Allison Baroni
August 23, 2021

On July 14, Senator Marco Rubio released a statement denouncing the recent expansion of the Child Tax Credit. In it, he states that while he has always supported CTC expansion for “hardworking families” the recent expansion “has transformed the pro-worker, pro-family Child Tax Credit into an anti-work welfare check.” This echoes rhetoric deployed during the 1990s welfare reform movement, which culminated in the controversial 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act. Presented as an attempt reduce poverty while cutting costs, the bipartisan legislation has had devastating consequences for many of those experiencing deep poverty in the United States. By deploying this language now, Rubio reveals the continued insistence of some members of Congress to lean on self-righteous and inaccurate depictions of poverty to pass a self-serving agenda that perpetuates injustice.

A Long GOP Tradition of Putting Profit over People

Republican critiques of Democratic programs and policies as being “anti-work” are nothing new. Following in the wake of President Regan, an increasing number of politicians and constituents expressed concern for the number of people receiving money from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, as well as the aspects of the program that encouraged people to remain on the funding rather than finding a job. Dylan Matthews did an excellent deep dive into the complexities of this issue (as well as the results of the 1996 “reform”) but suffice it to say that there were issues with the program. Many who received the aid wanted to work, but to do so would cost them more financially than to remain on it. This stemmed from the program’s sexist and racist roots: FDR created the AFDC during the Great Depression to support single, white mothers, ensuring they did not have to work. The program was designed to disincentivize work to uphold white male assumptions of white womanhood. Rather than take an antiracist and feminist approach to reforming the AFDC, ensuring that all people had the financial ability to get a job should they want one, politicians simply linked access to government support to work status, and left the rest to the markets.

This had devastating results. While at first the program, cast as an attempt at poverty reduction, appeared to succeed, recent data tells a significantly different story. Additionally, in a study done of data from a 2012 Survey of Income and Program participation, University of Michigan’s Luke Shaefer and Johns Hopkins Kathryn Edin found that “‘the percentage growth in extreme poverty over our study period was greatest among vulnerable groups who were most likely to be impacted by the 1996 welfare reform,[1]’” and “households headed by single women saw a larger increase in extreme poverty. Households with children (the only ones eligible for AFDC) saw an increase more than twice as large as the one households without children experienced.[2]” In other words, those most in need were left without government support, and children were the most directly impacted. NETWORK also conducted several studies over the years looking at the harmful impact of these reforms.  

Our Faith Calls Us to Alleviate Poverty

This did not need to happen. Pope Francis once said, “the marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith” (Fratelli Tutti 168). Very few people want to hear that, but if Senator Rubio’s words are any indication, we all need to. And as usual, our faith traditions have something to offer us as we look for direction. For Catholics such as myself and Senator Rubio, the Pope gives us a clear message: we cannot afford to turn the marketplace, turn work and productivity, into a false god. Not only for the sake of our country, but for the sake of our souls. If we want to be faithful to our tradition, if we want to alleviate poverty, we must do better. Our politics must do better. To quote again from the Pope:

“Here I would once more observe that ‘politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy’ [158]…instead, ‘what is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis’ [160]. In other words, a ‘healthy politics…capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia’ [161]. We cannot expect economics to do this, nor can we allow economics to take over the real power of the state” (Fratelli Tutti 177).

The Courage to Act for the Common Good

In our world, living such a political agenda would take great courage, a virtue in the Catholic tradition that Fr. Bryan Massingale has suggested is “perhaps the least studied of the virtues.” Yet, “Thomas Aquinas taught us that courage is the precondition of all virtue. Without courage, we’re not able to be prudent. We’re not able to be just, because courage is the virtue that allows us to surmount the fear that comes with following the Gospel.[3]

Our nation deserves politicians with courage. We deserve a society build on courage. As Catholics, we too often praise the courage of those who came before us but forget that God extends to us the same grace he did to them. If we allow the Spirit to move us, we can be as courageous as St. Mary Magdalene or St. Peter, as Dorothy Day or St. Oscar Romero. We can be courageous enough to let go of our false gods and build a new world, to reject rhetoric that encourages us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.

For this is what happens when we are encouraged to place limits upon who is deserving of financial assistance. Perhaps the most insidious belief behind attacks on the CTC, behind demands that it only be given to “hardworking families,” is that it places preconditions on the right to have one’s basic needs met. Catholics in Congress need to remember that this is not what our faith teaches us, for not only does “every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally,” but “people have this right even if they are unproductive…” (Fratelli Tutti 107).