Leaders from the United Church of Christ are frustrated and dismayed with Congress' inability to resolve its budget bill quarrel, which effectively shut down the government on the morning of Oct. 1 and left more than 800,000 government employees facing financial uncertainty because of forced furloughs. UCC activists, part of a last-minute push alongside a coalition of faith leaders, urged U.S. lawmakers to take action, and hoped for a last minute resolution. But when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives missed their midnight deadline, it left church leaders shaking their heads at how the government could act so irresponsibly.
"Everyone is impacted by this government's inability to act," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C. office. "This is a failure of governance to function as it should, and it might potentially foreshadow other hurdles in the future. We need to call our elected officials to accountability, to good governance and to seek a higher level of cooperation — not the lowest common denominator."
"We, the people – have a government that is not functioning," begins a statement from the national officers of the United Church of Christ. "The shutdown of the federal government will mean that 9 million Americans who receive support through the Women, Infant and Children supplemental nutrition program will not receive those benefits if the government shut down lasts more than a week. Two million federal employees may not receive pay during this time. Families of military service members will be affected. All of us will be in one way or another."
The price of Congress' inability to approve a budget bill is an estimated $1 billion-a-week blow to the U.S. economy.
"It is harmful and unnecessary," said Edie Rasell, the UCC's minister for economic justice. "This is not a responsible way to govern a country."
The shutdown will place about 800,000 federal workers on unpaid furlough while forcing others to work without pay. National parks and monuments will be closed, and services such as IRS audits and food assistance are suspended. Members of the military will be paid, thanks to a late-Monday bill from Congress that was signed by Obama, and national security operations will continue as usual, as will Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement payments.
UCC leaders and activists were calling on elected representatives to avoid the back-and-forth political game by cooperating on a budget bill and avoiding a shutdown. The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, and the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, signed a letter from almost three dozen interfaith and advocacy organizations sent to members of Congress.
"The UCC is part of an interfaith Faithful Budget Campaign that, for a number of years, has worked for a federal budget that meets the needs of the country, especially the needs of the most vulnerable, and serves the common good," said Rasell. "In recent years, people of faith have worked to influence the frequent battles over spending but at least there has always been a budget. Now, there is none. This irresponsible behavior will harm families and our communities, and – if not settled very quickly – could damage the fragile economy."
This isn’t the first time the government has shut down. It last happened 17 years ago, during the Clinton administration, and lasted 21 days. This time, as the 2014 fiscal year began at midnight on Tuesday with no budget in place, the government was left with little option to shut down certain agencies and offices, executing planned furloughs while waiting on Congress to act.
The Senate and the House of Representatives have debated their own versions of a bill to fund the government during the weekend, but the sticking point remains the House's attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which was passed in 2010.
Here is the complete statement released today by the UCC national officers:
"We, the people – have a government that is not functioning. The shutdown of the federal government will mean that 9 million Americans who receive support through the Women, Infant and Children supplemental nutrition program will not receive those benefits if the government shut down lasts more than a week. Two million federal employees may not receive pay during this time. Families of military service members will be affected. All of us will be in one way or another.
Good governance is about being willing to do the hard work of finding a way through political, ideological and expedient differences to reach a compromise for the sake of the whole. The Affordable Care Act is the law, constitutionally sound, and will provide health coverage for millions now uninsured. The federal budget must not be held hostage in order to make changes in the ACA that could not be achieved through usual legislative practices.
We hold our nation in prayer, especially our leaders in Congress, and pray that their hearts will be softened by the cries of those who they represent. We call upon all citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions and join with those working to end this shut down as quickly as possible."
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries
The Rev. James A. Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries