Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Women and Children Last: Would We So Willingly Cut Programs for the Poor If We Knew Them by Name?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Women and Children Last: Would We So Willingly Cut Programs for the Poor If We Knew Them by Name?

Article excerpt

WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, I BAGGED groceries for my pocket money, and I often saw a WIC tag next to food items as I restocked shelves: peanut butter, milk, cheese. As a middle-class 16-year- old who never missed a meal, I didn't even know what WIC stood for ("Women, Infants, and Children") or that it provided free food to pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants and young children, until my mother told me that it started when she was pregnant with me.

Twenty years later, that memory came back to me as I saw flashing across the screen on CNN: "$500 million, WIC; $600 million, community health centers." The ticker was rolling the line items of the $38 billion in spending cuts approved by Congress in April and signed by President Obama to avert a government shutdown. A piece in The Nation highlighted the on-the-ground impact of these kinds of cuts: In House Speaker John Boehner's district alone, where child poverty rose six points to 19 percent in 2009, 500 poor seniors will no longer get a monthly food box.

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As I considered the damage to our social safety net, I couldn't stop asking myself: What kind of country balances its budget by taking milk from children or peanut butter from their mothers? Or cuts health programs for uninsured people? Is that the same country that in just a few weeks dropped $750 million worth of bombs on Libya and this year will spend more than $700 billion on "defense"? It seems we have to justify every penny spent on feeding the poor, but if we're bombing someone, it's carte blanche.

Soon after the cuts passed, the bishops who chair the domestic and international policy committees of the U.S. bishops' conference and the heads of Catholic Relief Services

and Catholic Charities joined Christian leaders in calling for a "circle of protection" around the portion of the federal budget devoted to social services. The bishops followed up with a letter to the Senate from the two bishops' committees urging senators to keep poor and working families high on their agenda. In May Catholic theologians and scholars sent a letter to Speaker Boehner on the eve of his appearance at the Catholic University of America decrying the "anti-life implications

of this budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens. …

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