The Rev. Wallace Ryan Kuroiwa can recall his mentor in ministry giving him good advice.
"He told me that when you consider a call to a congregation, you should pay close attention to the church's budget, because it will tell a good story," Ryan Kuroiwa says. "And he was right, because a budget reflects more than numbers, it speaks of values."
In much the same way, the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries is asking church members to examine the federal government's budget figures now being considered in Congress.
"It's our budget," says Ryan Kuroiwa, who heads JWM's Economic Justice Ministry Team. "We have a vested interest in how our money is spent. It should reflect our values."
The Bush administration has proposed a 2003 budget of $2.1 trillion—a 3.7 percent increase—that includes a $48 billion jump in military spending and an additional $38 billion for homeland defense. Meanwhile, these increases combined with last year's $1.3 trillion tax cut translate into significant reductions for social development and human needs programs.
Bush has asked for major cuts in job training, hospital funding, highway spending, and labor department oversight of worker safety and minimum wage compliance. In addition, he has called for a five-year spending freeze on childcare, social service block grants, and funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Congressional Democrats have countered Bush's proposals by seeking to loosen time caps on welfare assistance, restore benefits to legal immigrants, and increase funding for child care, while Republicans have largely supported reduced social spending by arguing that welfare caseloads have fallen by more than half since reform was legislated in 1996.
Jim Stewart, director of the First Church Shelter in Cambridge, Mass., and chairperson of the UCC Welfare Working Group, says that current proposals do not provide adequate dollars for basic human needs.
"The current budget suggests a commitment to militarism and a callous disregard for basic services that could help build a stronger, more secure common good," Stewart says. "We need funding for TANF that actually produces poverty reduction, that moves people into good paying jobs, into situations of stability and hope, and not just a decrease in welfare case loads."
Ryan Kuroiwa agrees. "Bush's budget creates some big winners and some drastic losers. By and large, the winners are wealthy corporate interests and the losers are the poor and vulnerable."
"We need to be aware of how our money is being spent," he says. "The sheer magnitude of the numbers makes it difficult, but we cannot afford to ignore its importance."
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is minister for communication and mission education with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
"Winners and Losers" is a new resource examining the impact of the proposed federal budget on children and families, the military, the poor and wealthy, the sick and injured, the elderly and developing nations. Free from Justice and Witness Ministries; phone 216-736-3712; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.