On October 20, the Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton, California, and the Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, New York, penned a letter on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”) expressing concern about budget cuts to conservation, rural development, and international food-aid programs.

Bishop Blaire, the Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Hubbard, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to emphasize that domestic and international budget considerations must take into account the “least of these” among us.  See Matthew, 25:40.  The letter focuses on the need, in determining government spending priorities, always to respect the fundamental right of the poor to adequate nutrition and the necessity of promoting responsible environmental stewardship.  The letter urges Congress, despite its legitimate fiscal concerns, not to lose sight of these priorities in its rush to cut spending.

Excerpts from the letter, addressed to the Chair and Ranking member of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, follow the jump.

Dear Chairman Inouye, Chairman Rogers, and Ranking Members Cochran and Dicks:

[W]e wish to express our deep concern regarding potential cuts to both domestic and international food aid as well as conservation and rural development programs . . . . A just framework for agriculture policy must protect and adequately fund programs that feed the hungry, help the most vulnerable farmers[,] conserve and care for our environment and strengthen rural communities.

[T]he U.S. Catholic bishops [have written], “The primary goals of agricultural policies should be providing food for all people and reducing poverty among farmers and farm workers in this country and abroad.”  Adequate nutrition is a fundamental human right.  This is why we urge you to support just . . . policies that serve the hungry, poor and vulnerable while promoting good stewardship of our land and natural resources.

Hungry people have a special claim on our consciences and national priorities, especially during times of increasing hunger, poverty and persistent unemployment. . . . [Under]funding [nutrition programs such as WIC] will leave our nation unable to respond to increasing demand resulting from economic conditions, high unemployment[] and natural disasters.

International food aid programs are also essential to promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poor and hungry people and further global security. . . . The on-the-ground experiences of Catholic Relief Services indicate that further cuts in . . . resources will [cause] the loss of lives.

There may be a temptation to sacrifice conservation and rural development programs during the appropriations processHowever, [these initiatives] help farmers promote stewardship of God’s creation and further the development, sustainability and well-being of our rural communities.  Cuts to these programs will have negative effects on both the environment and the ability of small to medium sized farmers to prosper.

Given high food . . . prices and . . . budget constraints, we urge reduc[ing] . . . corn and cotton subsidies [that] benefit wealthy farmers and hurt subsistence farmers in developing countries.  Likewise, we call for reconsideration of the economics and ethics of subsidizing food to be used to produce fuel[,] . . . to protect the basic right to nutritious food [of the poor] in the United States and the developing world.

Our daily experience serving people in our parish[] schools, hospitals, shelters and soup kitchens compels us to continue to raise the moral and human dimensions of how budgets and policies touch poor and vulnerable people . . . at home and abroad.  Our nation faces budgetary constraints and legitimate concerns for our long-term economic stability, but how these problems are addressed requires a clear priority for the “the least of these” in our midst.  Therefore, we encourage you to . . . support[] and adequately fund[] programs that feed the hungry, help the most vulnerable farmers, and strengthen rural communities in our critical role as stewards of God’s creation.

Pope Benedict stated in his World Food Day 2011 message that today’s scandal of hunger exhibits a “profound division between those who lack daily sustenance and those who have vast resources at their disposal.”  We join Pope Benedict in raising the moral implications of increased hunger both at home and abroad.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire

Most Reverend Howard J.Hubbard

(emphasis added).

—DRS, CLR Fellow

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