1-December-2012 -- EWTNews Feature |

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Catholic charity warns against cutting international aid funding

Lawmakers should consider the lives saved by overseas funding as they evaluate ways to address national spending and debt concerns, said the U.S. bishops' international relief agency.

Poverty-focused international aid "is one percent of the budget, but it saves millions of lives," said Jill Marie Gerschutz Bell, senior legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services.

Gerschutz Bell told EWTN News on Nov. 30 that Catholic Relief Services is in the middle of a three-week campaign to "raise awareness among the public and put pressure on members of Congress," echoing the bishops' message that the U.S. has an urgent obligation to address the country's fiscal situation.

In a Nov. 16 letter, Bishop Richard J. Pates of Des Moines, leader of the U.S. bishops' international justice committee, and Catholic Relief Services president Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo called on leaders of Congress to "protect U.S. government poverty-focused international assistance" as they work to solve the fiscal crisis.

This crisis is heightened by the looming "fiscal cliff" created by the expiration of numerous tax cuts at the end of this year, as well as the impending "sequestration," an automatic reduction of government spending that will go into effect at the beginning of 2013 if Congress does not come to an agreement on a deficit reduction package.

Sequestration would result in an 8.2 percent spending reduction for many agency accounts that deal with "nondefense discretionary funding." Catholic Relief Services applies for funding from several of these accounts, dealing with development, global health, food assistance and emergency aid.

Woo and Bishop Pates warned that the cuts caused by sequestration "would cost lives overseas."

Catholic Relief Services "implements the kinds of life-saving programs funded by these accounts," they said, noting that in 2011, the agency "used funding from these accounts to help more than 100 million beneficiaries in nearly 100 countries."

"Poverty-focused international assistance protects the most vulnerable persons and families abroad," they stressed, urging members of Congress to work to avoid sequestration.

Gerschutz Bell explained that the consequences of funding cuts could be devastating for those overseas.

An estimated 276,000 people would lose access to HIV/AIDS medication as the result of such cuts, she said. This could lead not only to their own deaths, but to tens of thousands more children being orphaned and to an increased spread of the disease, detracting sharply from the progress that has been made in recent years.

In addition, she said, emergency efforts in countries such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would decrease, and 656,000 fewer children would have access to primary education, putting them at a significant disadvantage later in life.

More than three million people would have reduced access to food assistance, which Catholic Relief Services helps implement, she added. And because some of this assistance comes in the form of school lunches, additional children may be kept from attending school if they cannot get this food.

While Congress' failure to arrive at an agreement would harm these programs, it is also possible that they could be harmed by proposed Congressional deals that would cuts overseas assistance spending, Gerschutz Bell said.

She explained that Catholic Relief Services is ultimately calling on Congress and the president to consider a long-term solution that looks at the bigger picture, addressing the fiscal crisis while protecting life-saving aid funding.

This requires a balanced approach that includes revenue increases, spending cuts and "fair and just entitlement reform" in order to control spending without sacrificing the needs of the poor, she said, adding that this bipartisan solution would require political "courage" on both sides.

Catholic Relief Services is working to promote such a solution by using email, online videos, pamphlets and social media efforts reminding lawmakers that "cuts cost lives."

"They're big numbers," Gerschutz Bell said. "And they're foundational programs."

Read more: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/US.php?id=6644#ixzz2E2BEWHYX

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