The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As people of faith concerned about the needs of low income working families, we write to ask that the federal budget for fiscal year 2004 truly take into account their needs.
We represent a broad spectrum of the religious community, and in our diversity we unite around the need to fight poverty in America. Our religious conviction calls us to help ensure that vulnerable people who need our help are treated compassionately and given access to resources that help them pursue greater economic security. As you allocate funding for possible war efforts, national security needs, and stimulation of the economy, we ask that you not forget to provide necessary resources for domestic social programs so that everyone in this nation is secure -- leaving no child, adult, or family behind.
Our nation currently faces several sobering realities. For the first time since 1993, national poverty is on the rise. The unemployment rate has jumped to 6 percent. 33 million people -- 13 million children -- experience hunger or the risk of hunger in a given year. And in addition to a $5.6 trillion projected budget surplus disappearing over the last year and a half, most states -- relying heavily on federal funding to provide services to people in need -- are in severe budgetary crisis and have begun to implement drastic reductions in social program funding. In times of economic hardships, such as these, working families suffering from the effects of a tough economy need even more assistance.
We share your commitment based on religious conviction to bring about positive change, and the faith community will continue to show compassion to our neighbors in need. But as we continue to serve people in poverty, we also recognize the need for systemic change to reduce poverty. As we act to the fullest extent possible within our means, we urge you to do the same. We also reaffirm our commitment to working with your administration on public policy initiatives that will help alleviate poverty. If given the chance, the faith community can continue to provide valuable ongoing guidance through principles born of a deep religious faith and an understanding of helping others. At this time, we offer the following observations regarding potential funding actions that are inconsistent with religious understandings of justice.
Foremost, we note our concern that people of all ages in need are directly harmed when domestic social spending is reduced. Our government has a moral responsibility to fund programs that support the neediest among us. We oppose efforts in Congress to cut non-defense discretionary spending levels for fiscal year 2003 by $10 billion below bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee passed bills in order to meet budget ceilings. We urge you not to incorporate such an approach in the 2004 budget.
Additionally, attention and resources dedicated to the potential war with Iraq or the war on terrorism should not result in inadequate funding for domestic social programs. An increase in military spending is not a justifiable rationale for cutting funding for social programs that are needed to help American families keep from falling into or remaining in poverty. We have differing viewpoints on war with Iraq and the war on terrorism, so this letter is not a moral stance on war. Instead, it is an expression of concern for priorities that may be affected as a result of war. Poor and vulnerable children, families, seniors, and people with disabilities must not become the first casualties of war.
Regarding specific programs scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress in 2003, the faith community offers the following:
- We praise your efforts to increase funding for the Head Start program over the past few years. We urge you to continue to allocate additional resources for this critical program. Because you understand the importance of early childhood development, we trust you will consider our recommendations below regarding other programs that help low income children.
- In order for welfare reform to continue to be successful, proper funding must be allocated. The TANF block grant must not be reduced below the current level of $16.5 billion. In addition, TANF reauthorization offers an opportunity to build on efforts to leave no child behind by supporting an increase in funding for child care assistance for working mothers. A meaningful increase would allow more than just 1 in 7 of our nationâs eligible children -- the current estimate -- to receive the child care assistance they need.
- Funding for Child Nutrition programs has not kept pace with increases in program demands. These programs help reduce childhood hunger, improve child nutrition and health, reduce obesity, enhance child development, raise the quality of child care for low-income families, increase jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for low-income women, prepare young children for school, improve the achievement of school age children, and support the efforts of low income families to make the transition from welfare to work. Therefore, it is essential that your 2004 budget reflect a commitment to fund Child Nutrition programs fully.
- Given the rising unemployment rate, it is more important than ever that the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) be funded adequately. Programs funded by WIA provide assistance to workers who have been laid off and provide training to help families move from welfare to financial independence. Because job training is essential for moving families out of poverty and into well paying jobs, we urge you not to reduce the amount requested for WIA in your 2004 budget.
- In addition to concern for programs scheduled to be reauthorized, we express our support for federal assistance for affordable housing. Between 1997 and 2001, the number of working families with critical housing needs increased by over 60 percent.
According to the 2002 U.S. Conference of Mayors report, requests for emergency shelter rose an average of 19 percent in 18 major U.S. cities. We hope you will oppose a pending change in fiscal year 2003 appropriations legislation that would reduce the number of families served in the Section 8 program, which currently provides nearly 1.6 million families with vouchers to defray part of the cost of renting housing on the open market. Since families must earn, on average, $14.66 an hour -- almost three times the minimum wage -- to afford a two bedroom apartment at fair market rent across the country, any reduction is unacceptable. Section 8 housing funding should not be reduced in 2003 or 2004, but should be increased.
These concerns are expressions of our call to advocate for policies that are just and that exhibit compassion for the less fortunate among us. They should resonate with those who are motivated by faith to serve the public. As you address the nationâs external threats and financial uncertainty, we hope you will also strive to protect our neighbors in need from hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness.
We would be happy to comment further on these programs and our guiding principles, and hope your 2004 budget reflects a commitment to ensuring the security of all people in our nation.
American Baptist Churches, USA
American Friends Service Committee
Bread for the World
Call to Renewal
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Christian Community Development Association
Christian Reformed Church
Episcopal Church, USA
Evangelical Covenant Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Evangelicals for Social Action
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker)
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office
The Salvation Army
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Volunteers of America
We Care America
World Vision US
CC: Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., Director of the Office of Management and Budget
For more information, contact Yonce Shelton with Call to Renewal at
202-328-8745 or [email protected]