There is no denying that our country’s budget is a moral document. A budget illustrates what your values are and where you spend your money. However, the proposed 2018 budget does not adequately reflect the core values and morals of Christians or Americans at large because it ignores our country’s innate value to care for the poor and vulnerable.
The budget proposal has received extensive criticism from the left and right. Many agree that balancing the budget on the backs of the country’s poorest people is not a solution. But the budget proposal goes even deeper than that. In fact, when I think of the proposed budget, which calls for more than $1 trillion in cuts to programs that aid the poor, I think of people like Dawn Phipps, a single mother who was working a steady job until the recession resulted in her being laid off. As a single mother and the sole provider for her children and herself, Dawn turned to food stamps to help her family get through an unexpected rough patch.
However, with the proposed budget, everyday people like Dawn and others who are battling even bigger obstacles such as extreme poverty, starvation and serious physical and mental health issues, will not have the ability to receive help. We must remember that behind every fact and every statistic impacted by the budget is a story of how someone like Dawn and many others will be gravely affected by the proposed cuts to the federal budget.
That is why I stood alongside nine Christian leaders – many of whom flew in from across the country – at a press conference last week in D.C. to strongly voice my opposition to the proposed budget cuts affecting the poor and hungry. This marked the first time that the Circle of Protection – a broad coalition of leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity who have come together around the biblical mandate to protect poor and vulnerable people – has responded to the ongoing budget debate since President Trump’s inauguration.
At the press conference, faith leaders voiced their condemnation of the proposed budget and called on “political leaders in the House and the Senate to express their faith convictions in their votes.”
The administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a $610 billion cut to Medicaid, and that’s on top of the $880 billion already taken from Medicaid in the American Health Care Act (AHCA). This impacts a wide range of Americans on Medicaid, including retired pastors who have given their lives ministering in rural or urban communities. The budget also calls for cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, international food aid, McGovern-Dole, development assistance, and makes deep cuts to global health programs.
As Christians, we are called to help “the least of these,” which is why I, along with 40 other Christian leaders throughout the country, signed an official statement opposing the budget. Our statement is poignant:
“Budgets show who and what we view as important, and, likewise, who and what are not. We have deep moral concerns about the way this budget would impact those we are called to protect…”
To put things into perspective, the country’s religious congregations will have to add $714,000 to their annual budgets each year for the next decade to make up for the drastic cuts found in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, according to Bread for the World. Bread for the World also estimates that the healthcare cuts alone under the American Health Care Act will take away $2,000 a year in healthcare services from every man, woman, and child in or near poverty for the next 10 years. What does that say about the people and issues we as a country view as important?
It is painstakingly clear that the proposed budget does not reflect the Christian and American call to help thy neighbor and to love one another. The poor and vulnerable do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. As such, I urge Christian leaders across the country and all Americans to fight to keep these important programs.
Like the Book of Amos, we are battling a time of social injustice. Let us not be like the Northern Kingdom who “trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (2:7) and sit back allowing even remnants of this immoral budget proposal to pass. As the Senate commences work on their budget blueprint, we must continue to voice our concerns for the poor and needy so that none of the proposed budget cuts are included in the Senate’s version. When we fail to help those in need, we deaden our own spiritual connectedness with our neighbors. Instead, let us band together to oppose this budget, fight to keep these vital programs for our nation’s most vulnerable and shout from the rooftops the words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
For those that think it is not their responsibility to fight for those in need, or that the proposed budget cuts don’t impact them and therefore they do not need to speak up and fight for these vital programs, they need to think again. They could be the next Dawn Phipps.
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