January 26, 2007

Be Our Guest / Fr. Larry Snyder

America’s growing poverty crisis must become a national priority

The promise of America has been that if you work hard, you can provide a better life for yourself and your family.

Unfortunately, too many people in this country are working hard, but falling further behind—with their dream of a better tomorrow detoured down a path to poverty.

Today, more than 37 million people are living in poverty in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The numbers are rising, with increasing numbers of people who are hungry, more children without health insurance and more families without a decent place to live.

Poverty is a moral and social crisis for our country, one that threatens the health and economic well-being of both families and our nation as a whole.

Throughout the great history of this country, our nation’s leaders and its people have demonstrated a capacity to come together in times of great crisis to secure the common good of our nation. The escalating number of people living in poverty is such a crisis, one that demands the attention and collective will of the country. Reducing poverty will help not only those in need, but also our country as a whole.

That’s why Catholic Charities USA is launching the “Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America” to confront this challenge. Our goal is to cut the nation’s poverty rate in half by 2020.

Through their work in providing help and offering hope to more than 7.4 million people each year, Catholic Charities agencies in communities across the country have been coping with a steady increase in demand for emergency assistance, primarily among working families. Each day, our agencies serve families who work hard but still do not earn enough to provide for their basic needs.

Catholic Charities will continue, of course, to help families meet their daily needs, but we also will advocate for changes in public policies that will help lift them out of poverty.

Catholic Charities USA pledges its experience and resources to help reduce poverty in America. But we can only succeed with the active involvement of Congress and President Bush’s administration. Only through partnerships between government and community leaders will we develop the capacity and the scale necessary to attack poverty in a comprehensive and sustained way.

We are urging Congress and the administration—through policy decisions and budget actions—to protect and expand programs that provide needed health care, affordable housing, nutrition assistance, and economic security for the poor and vulnerable. And we intend to hold elected officials accountable on how their actions support these goals.

What we are seeking will require a sustained commitment to focus on the needs of those living in poverty. The causes and affects of poverty did not develop overnight, and it will take an ongoing effort to cut the poverty rate in half by 2020. But that’s exactly what’s needed because oftentimes a short-term response, however generous, is not enough to deal with long-term challenges.

Good government is about making choices and setting priorities that serve the common good, and we will work in partnership in this campaign with Catholic organizations and other partners to encourage elected leaders to give greater priority to attending to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable persons in society.

The many choices that Congress and the administration will make each year in the federal budget process about what is funded—and how to pay for it—must be judged by whether the life and dignity of families are protected or undermined. While we have a long-term goal, we believe that it is imperative that Congress and the administration begin now to demonstrate a renewed commitment to the poor.

Working together, government, the faith community, low-income families, social services groups and others have the resources, experience and knowledge to dramatically reduce poverty—especially long-term poverty.

What we have lacked as a nation is the required political will.

This is about who we are as a nation. We must no longer ignore the injustice of poverty and the extreme inequality in America, and instead must seize this opportunity to promote changes that promote human dignity and the common good.

Learn more about Catholic Charities USA’s Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/poverty.

(Father Larry Snyder is president of Catholic Charities USA.) †

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