Faith organizations urge bipartisan agreement to avoid government shutdown
For Immediate Release: September 27, 2023
WASHINGTON, DC – On September 26, 53 organizations representing people of faith across religious traditions and denominations delivered a letter to the U.S. Congress urging bipartisan action to keep the government operational or risk severe consequences on the most vulnerable members of society. Congress has until September 30, 2023 to pass a continuing resolution to avert a shutdown of the government’s most basic operations.
The signatories, which include NETWORK, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Franciscan Action Network, called on lawmakers to fund the government and work in a bipartisan manner to pass a stop-gap funding measure without harmful provisions. The complete letter and list of signatories is available below.
Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, stated, “When the government shuts down its core operations, it is those whom the Bible calls “the least of these” who are most harmed. Any thought of adding provisions to a deal to avoid a shutdown that criminalizes the poor and immigrants, placing them under the threat of torture in prison or starvation at home, is what our common religious traditions would call “immoral stewardship of the nation’s resources” and “unjust leadership.”
Rev. Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power & Light, stated, “As our beloved communities face growing threats from climate change through rising temperatures, wildfires, smoke hazards and rising sea levels, a government shutdown would further place our neighbors in harm’s way. People of faith fought to pass the historic clean energy investments in the Inflation Reduction Act because we know acting on climate will create a more just world for all. It is a moral imperative that Congress protect these important programs to ensure a safe, equitable and clean future for generations to come.”
Rev. Michael Neuroth, Director of the United Church of Christ DC Office, stated, “At this critical moment, it is imperative that we remind Congress of their oath of office and primary responsibility to provide for, as it is stated in the Preamble to the Constitution, the “general Welfare” of our nation. That basic contract is currently fraying under partisan politics and ideological tactics seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ+ citizens and underfund basic human needs programs. Failing to act to avoid a government shutdown for political gain is immoral and impacts the lives of many who rely on assistance in these challenging economic times. We call on policymakers to pass a bipartisan Continuing Resolution this week, and further, to increase funding for essential safety net programs in FY24 appropriations negotiations to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Rev. Noel Andersen, National Field Director at Church World Service, stated, “As we have seen time and again, when those in power do not follow through on their responsibilities and promises, it is the most vulnerable in our society that are most profoundly impacted. We are in the midst of one of the worst displacement crises in history, with 35 million refugees worldwide– half of whom are children. Across faith traditions, we are called to love and welcome our neighbors and to walk in solidarity with the persecuted. If Congress fails to move forward with a continuing resolution that invests in compassionate refugee and asylum protections, we will be further endangering those who have already experienced great loss, grief, and uncertainty. To levy more inaction and injustice on these individuals and families would be a moral failing, and in direct contradiction to the foundational values of our faith.”
Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, said: “Jewish tradition teaches that we must ‘speak up, judge righteously, and champion the poor and the needy’ (Proverbs 31:9). Members working to avert a government shutdown must pass a funding deal that advances dignity and humanity for all people. We urge Congress to reject harmful budget provisions that cut food and housing benefits, rescind Inflation Reduction Act climate investments, and target immigrants.”
Pablo DeJesús, Executive Director of Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, stated “Government shutdowns solve nothing and improve little. They hurt the most vulnerable people in our communities and wound the most vulnerable communities of our nation. Any deal to sidestep a shutdown must not sidestep our nation’s primary moral responsibility—to care for its people. Proposals that criminalize the poor or cut needed services to the vulnerable, must be rejected. Plans that target immigrant populations or impede asylum and refugee services, must be repudiated. Proffers that discriminate against BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, must be renounced. Propositions that claw back historic clean energy and climate investments, must be rebuffed. Instead, Congress should pass a bipartisan Continuing Resolution that cares for all our nation’s people. Instead, Congress should approach FY24 appropriations as a moral exercise, bearing in mind ‘the inherent worth and dignity of every person,’ as our faith tradition teaches.”
Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, said: “During this sacred time of the Jewish High Holy Days, we think about the expectations we have of ourselves and our nation. We reflect upon injustices in our communities, including the fact that over 40 million Americans face the daily pain and indignity of hunger. We call on our policymakers to find the political will to pass smart, compassionate, and lasting policy solutions to keep our government programs running and take proactive steps to reverse the course of hunger in this country.”
Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, stated, “Both our faith and our confidence in our democracy require our steadfast commitment to cross lines of polarity and division, on behalf of the common good. Built on faith and the contribution of each American, a government shut-down would cause disruption to salaries, services and the global economic stability. We urge every member of Congress to uphold the responsibility to work towards a resolution of this crisis with a budget approval and a demonstration of the ability of our democracy to cross barriers for the sake of the people.”
Michele Dunne OFS, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network, stated, “As Franciscans, we stand always on the side of our sisters and brothers who have been impoverished and marginalized—the ones who would be hurt most immediately and deeply by a U.S. government shutdown or cuts in spending on critical human needs. We are alarmed at the sharp rise in poverty rates, especially for children, after pandemic era relief programs were suspended, as we are by proposed harsh measures against those seeking asylum in the United States. We beseech our elected representatives, as they consider measures to keep the government open and funded, to remember their sacred responsibility to guard the welfare of the most vulnerable in our country.”
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches said, “We call on Congress to pass adequate funding for the US Government to function effectively. Without proper funding, critical services may be understaffed or unable to meet growing demands, leading to a decline in public safety, public welfare and societal well-being. We cannot afford to play the “my way or the highway” games with the lives and livelihood of millions of Americans.”
Fran Eskin-Royer, Executive Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, said “How we – how our government – treat the least among us reflects who we are and what we want America to be. Whatever your faith or belief system, we all must recognize the hardship that shutting down the federal government would have on the most vulnerable around us. Children will go hungry. The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd calls on Congress to pass a bi-partisan continuing resolution that fully funds government programs at the agreed upon levels earlier this year.”
Bridget Moix, General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation said “As Quakers, we reject the willful suspension of the funding that feeds, clothes, and houses families across the country. A prolonged shutdown could offset cutbacks and waitlists for critical anti-hunger initiatives that serve vulnerable seniors, mothers and newborn babies, and Native American communities on reservations. Unconscionably, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are on the cusp of being furloughed or forced to work without pay. No one should be welcoming or celebrating this potential lapse in governance. Our world faces serious challenges. Rather than holding government functions hostage to extract extreme cuts, Congress should honor its deal with the President and pass funding that safeguards children and families and invests in the prosperity and stability of this nation and world.”
The Rev. Amy Reumann, Senior Director of Witness in Society at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, stated, “As Lutherans, we understand that the aim of government is to serve the well-being of society and we evaluate our leaders by asking one simple and encompassing question: “Is our neighbor being served?” Steering the U.S. government into a shutdown will harm the well-being of many in our nation, with the consequences falling immediately and disproportionately on our most vulnerable neighbors. We call on policymakers to pass a bipartisan Continuing Resolution without harmful provisions, including any that would imperil food security for children; reduce access to affordable housing; or limit the legal right to seek protection or limit the ability of those whose faith prompts them to provide humanitarian assistance to those seeking protection.”
Full text of the letter and list of signatories follows:
September 26, 2023
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20515 Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Members of Congress,
As 53 faith organizations, representing people of faith across religious traditions and denominations, we agree that the moral vision of our faith communities includes a federal government that ensures the social well-being of every person, especially the most vulnerable members of society. With the U.S. facing the real threat of a government shutdown, that responsibility is being put to the test. Historically, previous shutdowns have been brief. While any length of shutdown has negative consequences, the impact of a shutdown on our society’s most vulnerable members is especially severe. We are called to practice compassion and mutual care for our fellow human beings as core tenets of our sacred teachings. With this in mind, we urge Members of Congress to fund the government and to work in a bipartisan manner to pass a Continuing Resolution without harmful provisions.
Congress must prioritize human needs in the annual FY24 appropriations bills and reject cuts to essential programs such as: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); nutrition assistance for schools; early childhood programs; access to affordable housing; and, other programs that support thriving children, families, and communities. As Congress considers annual spending bills, we also urge you to invest in critical infrastructure to welcome newcomers, to reject unrestricted funding for border security and enforcement, and to oppose restrictions to humanitarian protection.
The aftermath of a government shutdown will begin within days of the federal government running out of money and the ensuing financial hardship will only compound the difficulty families already face making ends meet. The burden of those harms will fall most heavily on the nation’s most vulnerable communities—families living at or near poverty, individuals with disabilities, low-wage workers employed by the government and its contractors, and anyone needing immediate government assistance. Earlier this year, in the context of negotiations around the nation’s debt ceiling, Congress passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which put limits on spending on critical human needs programs in the call for greater austerity. That agreement set the framework for FY24 funding and represents the minimum of what is necessary to invest in our people and to protect our planet. For example, the proposed decrease in funding to WIC will impact about half a million people. This funding will not be sufficient to support the projected increase of participants amid rising food costs.
The critical need to invest in communities was made clear this week as the U.S. Census Bureau released data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage for 2022. The number of people with incomes below the poverty line in 2022 rose a sobering 15.3 million, reflecting disinvestment following the expiration of pandemic relief programs. The poverty rate for children more than doubled from a historic low of 5.2 percent in 2021 to 12.4 percent in 2022, erasing all of the record gains made against child poverty over the previous two years. Progress made in 2021 in narrowing the glaring differences between the poverty rates of Black and Brown children relative to their peers was halted. The exponential rise in the poverty rate, the largest on record in over 50 years both overall and for children, underscores the critical role that policy choices play in the level of poverty and hardship in the country.
Our laws and values support hope for individuals fleeing political and religious persecution, conflict, and targeted violence by explicitly providing for the legal and human right to seek asylum. For many asylum seekers, presenting at the U.S. southern border is their only chance of refuge. We encourage you to invest in migrant humanitarian assistance programs for localities and NGOs meeting their needs. We equally look to our elected leaders to invest in refugee protection and resettlement; refugees strengthen our communities and federal funding is critical for a resilient, agile, sustainable, and efficient resettlement program. These types of investments would bolster the work of states, cities, and other institutions, like places of worship, who are needed in creating sustainable community-based responses to forced migration in partnership with federal agencies. Reacting to the news that the U.S.-Mexico border has now become the world’s deadliest land route and amid reports of prevalent negligence and other abuses in detention facilities, we urge you to ensure that tax dollars do not go towards further harm and abuse, and to reject attachments, like H.R. 2.
Including H.R. 2 would be misguided and detrimental. H.R. 2 would strip away protections for unaccompanied children; detain children and their families; increase the vulnerability of migrants; and, prevent faith groups from fulfilling their witness and religious calling to welcome the sojourner. Unrestricted funding for CBP and ICE’s meanwhile, would widen these agencies’ latitude to further militarize the borderlands, increase punitive enforcement, and restrict the right to seek asylum. The U.S. must reassert global leadership in humanitarian protection, not deny it.
As our beloved communities face growing threats from climate change through rising temperatures, wildfires, smoke hazards and rising sea levels, we must do all we can to secure strong funding levels for climate action and environmental justice. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provided historic levels of investment towards a clean energy future. In order for the full benefits to reach our communities, we need strong government funding to implement the IRA’s climate and public health programs to protect all people and our Sacred Earth. Congress must oppose measures to rescind or cap IRA funds.
Congress has an outsized role in reversing the country’s increased poverty. September is a pivotal time as Congress must pass a Continuing Resolution in a few short days to fund the continued operation of the federal government. This is an opportunity for policymakers to work in a bipartisan manner to provide funding to meet the pressing needs of their constituents. Congress must keep its most fundamental promise to the nation’s people: to enact a fair and just budget that allows the nation, including its most vulnerable families and those seeking safe haven here, to have a sufficient, dignified life—and to urgently prevent a damaging shutdown as it works to fulfill that promise.
- Alliance of Baptists
- American Friends Service Committee
- Church World Service
- Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
- Creation Justice Ministries
- Daughters of Wisdom – US Delegation
- Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids
- Dominican Sisters of Hope
- Dominican Sisters of Peace
- Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Peace and Justice Office
- Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington DC
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- Franciscan Action Network
- Franciscan Peace Center, Clinton, Iowa
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart
- Holy Cross Sisters
- Interfaith Power & Light
- Islamic Relief USA
- Ladysmith Servite Sisters
- Leadership Conference of Women Religious
- Leadership Team of the Felician Sisters of North America
- Leadership Team of the Sisters of St Francis Neumann
- Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
- MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
- Medical Mission Sisters, Unit North America, Justice Office
- Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
- National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
- National Council of Churches
- National Council of Jewish Women
- National Religious Campaign Against Torture
- NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
- Presbyterian Church USA Office of Public Witness
- School Sisters of Notre Dame, CP JPIC/Shalom Office
- Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery
- Sisters of Bon Secours, USA
- Sisters of Charity of New York
- Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
- Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
- Sisters of Saint Anne, United States
- Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
- Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, LA
- Sisters of the Holy Cross
- Sisters of the Humility of Mary
- Sisters, Home Visitors of Mary
- T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
- The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
- Union for Reform Judaism
- Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice
- United Church of Christ, Justice and Local Church Ministries
- Us/Haiti Province of the Religious of Jesus and Mary
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