Catholic leaders call on Congress to increase humanitarian aid in budget

| November 29, 2016 | 1 Comment
A damaged statue of Mary is seen in a church in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Nov. 25. CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

A damaged statue of Mary is seen in a church in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Nov. 25. CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

The head of Catholic Relief Services and the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees have urged congressional leaders to approve additional funding for humanitarian relief and recovery operations as part of a comprehensive budget measure for fiscal 2017.

The Catholic leaders wrote a letter Nov. 28 in support of a request by the Obama administration for Overseas Contingency Operations funds to address the growing needs of those forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters around the world or as a result of the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants.

They urged action before the Dec. 9 deadline that Congress faces on the federal budget. The government is funded through that date because of a continuing resolution the House passed — and President Barack Obama signed — at the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

“More than 50,000 people have already fled Mosul, joining the approximately 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced since ISIS began occupying parts of Iraq in 2014,” stated the letter, released by Baltimore-based CRS Nov. 29. “(We) believe that as the world’s wealthiest nation, we have an obligation to help the innocent who fall victim to war, to protect the marginalized and to lift people out of poverty.”

It was signed by Carolyn Woo, outgoing president and CEO of CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Addressing the House and Senate Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, the Catholic leaders also pointed to increased suffering in other places besides Iraq, such as Southern Africa, which is suffering a severe drought.

They also named South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Lake Chad Basin, a region that comprises parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Ongoing violence and military conflicts in those places have displaced whole populations and exacerbated food insecurity, resulting in acute malnourishment for many. According to a recent report from the U.S. Agency for International Development, an estimated 9.2 million people, primarily in northeastern Nigeria, require humanitarian assistance.

Additional funding from Congress, the Catholic leaders said, will help ensure CRS can continue to respond “to crises like these that don’t make the headlines.”

They acknowledged Congress’ “steadfast commitments to humanitarian and development needs around the globe” and urged lawmakers to incorporate the administration’s amendment request for humanitarian relief and recovery activities” in their final appropriations bill.

September’s short-term measure included full funding for military construction and Veterans Affairs for the new fiscal year, but left undecided were 11 remaining annual appropriations bills for various federal agencies.

Woo and Bishops Vasquez and Cantu praised the current proposals before Congress for funding “key humanitarian accounts” — $3.2 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance; $2.8 billion for International Disaster Assistance; $1.6 billion for Food for Peace; and $60 million for Emergency Refugee and Migrant Assistance.

But they urged Congress also appropriate new Overseas Contingency Operations funds. The Obama administration has requested $14.9 billion.

“We urge you to respond generously to the administration’s request of Nov. 11 for additional humanitarian and recovery assistance,” they wrote.

“As we have already learned in Iraq, individuals, communities, and countries divided by war face significant challenges amidst their suffering,” Woo and the bishops continued. “They must rebuild their communities, and establish inclusive governance that protects majorities and minorities.

“We must provide them with humanitarian help and durable solutions to their plight because it’s the right thing to do, and because their security and prosperity is critical to the stability of the entire region,” they added.

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  • Charles C.

    Why is it that Catholic leaders never call for less spending? Ooops! My mistake, they sometimes call for less military spending.

    The most recent, and final, budget proposed by the president calls for spending $4147.2 billion. Of course, it plans on not being able to pay for all of that, the budget expects to be short by $503.5 billion dollars. What to do? Borrow the money and make somebody else pay for it later. Great solution? Not when you’re paying $302 billion a year in interest.

    What Catholic, or Christian, principle calls on spending $4.1 trillion when you only have $3.6 trillion? The money that the Catholic leaders want is being spent to pay the interest on loans, go get it there. In the budget of just five years ago, interest was only $220 billion.

    So, Catholic leaders, first tell us how to spend only what we have. Cut half a trillion dollars from the budget. One way to do that is to go back to cutting defense. All you need to do there is cut the military by 75%. (I assume you’ll keep paying for VA hospitals and veterans pensions. After all, you don’t want to hurt people.) But let’s say that you don’t cut the military’s personnel any more than it has been, keep paying all of them their salaries and benefits. Then all you have to do is cut the military by a little over 96%. Of course, you do know that foreign economic aid ($41 billion) is classified as defense spending, so we might just have to close out our military completely.

    Find the way to get our spending down to what we have to spend, then if you want to increase money to immigrants, identify where you’ll get the money. I suspect you don’t want to take it from health care, pensions, or welfare, and you can’t take it from interest. That’s $3.02 trillion you won’t cut, and we only have $3.64 trillion to spend.

    Catholic leaders, get us to where we only spend what we have, start paying back our debt (to reduce interest payments), figure out how to pay for Social Security and Medicare, THEN look for extra spending. THAT is a more Christian approach.