The Catholic Spirit: Lutheran bishops urge state lawmakers to protect poor

As state lawmakers work to craft a budget to address a struggling economy, revenue shortages and emerging needs, Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran bishops are urging them to ensure there is a “circle of protection” around programs serving the poor.

“In our churches, we are committed to addressing not only the spiritual poverty that afflicts our communities, but also the many manifestations we see of material poverty,” the bishops said in an open letter this week to members of the Minnesota House and Senate as well as Gov. Mark Dayton.

“Therefore, we ask both parties to work together toward a budget that alleviates poverty and works to build a hopeful future for all Minnesotans,” they said.

Ensuring dignity

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops, including Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché, and the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America signed the letter. Attached was a copy of a national “circle of protection” letter signed by faith leaders around the country and sent to federal lawmakers as they grapple with difficult budget decisions.

“As leaders of the state’s two largest faith communities, comprising almost 2 million lay faithful, the Catholic and ELCA bishops have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of the common good of all Minnesotans,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

“With this letter, they hope to remind legislators that budget decisions are moral decisions. Ensuring the basic dignity of the poorest and most vulnerable Minnesotans should be our top priority when spending decisions are made,” he said.

Both the House and Senate are considering approximately $150 million in cuts to the health and human services portion of the state budget, which includes services for some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Over the past two years, the health and human services budget has been cut by $1 billion.

“The statement is especially important at a time when legislative leaders are actually proposing cuts to the human services budget,” Adkins said.

“MCC thinks that it is an unfortunate error of judgment to cut human services so significantly while increasing spending on other initiatives. We hope that important anti-poverty programs remain fully funded, and that critical initiatives such as efforts to combat child sex trafficking receive proper funding, too,” he said.

Bipartisanship needed

The Minnesota bishops said the principles outlined in the national letter are applicable in the state.

They highlighted several key points from the letter, applying them to the local situation:

  • “We thank you for reducing the deficit while maintaining our government’s responsibility for programs that serve people who are experiencing poverty and are vulnerable.”
  • “We understand Minnesota’s fiscal health requires further cost savings and [that] additional revenue be raised fairly.”
  • “It is time to frame the budget debate in terms of moral choices.”
  • “We plead for respectful bipartisan dialogue and thoughtful engagement concerning our significant, complex problems.”

The bishops concluded their letter by telling lawmakers they would pray for them throughout the budget negotiations.

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