Written by Barb Powell
Leaders of the United Church of Christ released a statement Aug. 4 calling on people of faith to help those who may lose access to some necessary human services as the new debt ceiling law is implemented.
In the statement, the UCC’s Collegium of Officers expressed gratitude to those who spent hours in prayer and advocacy to guarantee that the U.S. Congress would not “balance the budget at the expense of the poor.”
But, the statement says, much still remains to be done.
“Now that the debt ceiling has been raised,” the statement reads, “Congress must focus on our nation's most important problem: unemployment and the weak economy. Strengthening the economy and putting people back to work is the best way to shrink the deficit. Congress must enact legislation that will create jobs.
“At the same time, people of faith must act to fill the void left by the coming cuts to human needs programs,” said the Collegium in the statement. “We encourage all [UCC] congregations to participate in the Mission: 1 campaign against hunger, a ministry that is even more critical in light of this debt ceiling agreement. We know the men, women and children who will fall through the cracks in our safety net programs –– they are in our congregations and communities.
The statement closed by offering prayers for society’s most vulnerable persons, and for the members of Congress as they debate additional budget cuts.
Here is the entire text of the statement released Aug. 4, 2011, by the Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ:
“The prophet Micah declares that we must do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. This is a guide for living faithfully in community. This calling has surely been put to the test in our public life during the last several weeks of heated debate over the federal budget and debt ceiling. Mercifully, after much infighting and down-to-the-wire deal-brokering, this week our nation narrowly avoided a financial default that would have rocked our economy and further destabilized our fragile recovery.
“Many of you logged hours of prayer and advocacy, calling on Congress to craft a faithful debt ceiling solution –– one that wouldn’t balance the budget at the expense of the poor. For that, we, the Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ, are grateful. Scripture tells us that when one of us suffers, all suffer together. Our faith calls us to lift up the voices and the stories of the most vulnerable in our society, and to advocate on their behalf. It is our sincere belief that it was due largely to the work of people of faith that vital safety net programs were protected to the extent that they were.
“Much work remains to be done. Those who struggle on the economic margins of our society in the U.S. and around the world –– children living in poverty, people without jobs, those with chronic health challenges, families facing foreclosure, older adults living on fixed incomes, women trying to escape domestic violence in their homes –– were not present when the decisions were made about federal spending and the debt ceiling. Yet, these decisions will determine whether they will have food to eat, and money to pay for rent and health care. We are committed to ensuring that those voices are heard in the months ahead as the debt limit agreement is implemented, and Congress develops budgets for 2012 and 2013.
“While we have many concerns about the final agreement, there are several areas where it could have been much worse.
“* The $21 billion in cuts in 2012 will be less damaging to the economic recovery than larger cuts would have been.
“* Pell grants that enable low-income students to receive higher education won't be cut during at least the first two years of the plan.
“* Although no tax increases were included in the initial package, the joint committee may propose tax increases that will lessen the amount of spending that must be cut.
“* If Congress fails to approve at least $1.2 trillion in additional cuts before the end of the year, then across-the-board cuts will automatically be imposed. If this happens, Medicaid and Social Security will be spared, and Medicare would face minimal cuts only. In addition, half the cuts are required to come from defense spending.
“Now that the debt ceiling has been raised, Congress must focus on our nation's most important problem: unemployment and the weak economy. Strengthening the economy and putting people back to work is the best way to shrink the deficit. Congress must enact legislation that will create jobs.
“At the same time, people of faith must act to fill the void left by the coming cuts to human needs programs. Many of us are already on the frontlines addressing immediate needs for food, housing, health care, child care, and job training assistance, and we will be challenged to do even more as some assistance programs are reduced further. We encourage all congregations to participate in the Mission: 1 campaign against hunger, a ministry that is even more critical in light of this debt ceiling agreement. We know the men, women and children who will fall through the cracks in our safety net programs –– they are in our congregations and communities.
“As Members of Congress determine additional budget cuts over the rest of this year, let us continue to pray that they are guided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of justice and compassion, the Spirit of mercy and righteousness. We pray that all God’s vulnerable people are adequately protected; we pray that fairness is restored to our society where, too often, those without means are treated as unavoidable casualties; and we pray that all people experience the dignity that is due to God’s daughters and sons.
“With God’s help, may we join together and recommit ourselves to relieving hunger through the Mission: 1 campaign and to advocating for fair federal spending and tax policies.
"In Christ service,
"The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
"Edith A. Guffey
Associate General Minister
"The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries
"The Rev. James Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries"