What Will House Republican Budget Cuts Do to Churches?
On Friday night, Feb. 11, House Republican leaders released their proposal for funding the federal budget until the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The leadership's harsh cuts were intended to placate Tea Party extremists.
President Obama released his proposed 2011-12 budget Feb. 14, complicating the budget issue in the public mind. Ordinary citizens will no doubt be confused by the Republicans' seven-month funding proposal and the president's annual budget that begins Oct. 1.
For now, let's stay focused on the House Republican budget proposal.
Budgets are moral documents, and the moral narrative of the House Republicans is simple: Punish the poor and protect the wealthy.
The proposed budget cuts place low-income Americans at risk of hunger, inadequate health care and substandard education and housing. The proposed budget guards the wealthy from paying their fair share in taxes.
Shared sacrifice is not a House Republican value.
If the House Republican budget is approved, we know what will happen to low-income Americans.
But here is what is going to happen to America's churches: America's poor will face hunger and hardships. The poor will inevitably turn to churches for assistance. Churches will turn away the poor because churches aren't prepared for the tsunami of need and don't have a proven track record of meeting the needs of the poor.
Look at examples of the House Republican budget cuts for the current fiscal year:
· $747.2 million from WIC. WIC is the "Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children." It safeguards low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 by providing nutritious foods to almost 9 million recipients each month (in FY 2008). Of the 9 million beneficiaries, 4.33 million are children, 2.22 million are infants and 2.15 million are women.
· $1.1 billion from Head Start. Head Start gets children ready for school with educational, health, nutritional and other social services. During the 2008-09 fiscal year, 11.5 percent of Head Start enrollees were children with disabilities – mental retardation, hearing impairments, emotional disturbances.
· $50 million from Maternal and Child Health Block Grant. MCHB helps immunize children against diseases, reduce infant mortality and provide mothers with access to prenatal care.
· $110 million from Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Community Grants.
· $49.3 million from Mentoring Children of Prisoners.
· $390 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP helps "those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs." LIHEAP helps keep granny from freezing.
Of course, this short list doesn't include severe cuts to any number of other domestic programs that benefit all Americans – $557 million from a program that ensures safe drinking water and $100 million from the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter program. And of course, public education takes a beating.
Consider also the $687 million cut to the Food for Peace program, $315 million for the Millennium Challenge Corporation and $783.5 million for Global Health and Child Survival.
Now, what exactly does this mean for churches?
On the domestic front, when the poor don't have enough money for food or heat, they will turn to churches for assistance. Churches will turn away the poor because churches have neither the financial resources nor infrastructure to make up the budget cuts.
Examine your own church budget. What percentage of your church budget is allocated to food, heating assistance and medical care programs for the poor? How much money does your church spend on preventing teenage pregnancy or mentoring children whose parents are in prison?
Are any of these items even in your church budget? Is your church even going to make its budget this year?
And that annual Thanksgiving box with packets of beans and rice, sacks of sugar and flour, cans of soup and fish, and containers of cereal and pasta – do you really think those items last all year?
On the foreign aid front, how far do you think those pennies for the world hunger offering will go to replace the $687 million cut in the Food for Peace program? Did your church even take up a world hunger offering?
What EthicsDaily.com editorials said would happen is happening: American politicians protect the richest citizens instead of listening to the biblical imperative to protect the poor – in no small measure because goodwill faith leaders avoid the topic of faith and taxes.
Almost a year ago, Virginia pastor and EthicsDaily.com columnist Chuck Warnock asked, "Think churches can feed America's poor?"
We're about to see the painful answer in real time unless God's people seek justice in the public square.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
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