The federal budget is more than just a long, complicated list of numbers. It is a moral document, showing in concrete financial terms the value that our country puts on the specific needs and wants of our people. In addition to carrying real consequences for individuals, the budget shapes the future of our economy and society. Bread for the World’s interest in the U.S. budget centers on its impact on hungry and poor people at home and around the world.
In February, the administration submits its budget request. Immediately following the release of the president’s proposal, the House and Senate Budget Committees meet to consider major categories of spending and propose a budget resolution for their respective chambers to approve. By the spring, both the House and Senate must pass their respective budget resolutions. The budget resolution names a ceiling for “discretionary spending,” which is the amount available to Congress for all of its appropriations bills.
Each chamber has an appropriations committee with 12 subcommittees. After Congress sets the ceiling for discretionary spending, each subcommittee allocates funds to specific federal agencies and programs under its authority.
For many years, Bread for the World members have advocated for resources to expand programs shown to reduce hunger and poverty.
The world stepped up its commitment to ending hunger in 2000, when nearly every government adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of 8 concrete goals to reduce global hunger, poverty and disease. The MDGs include specific achievable targets for the year 2015. Poverty-focused development assistance from the U.S. would move us toward the MDGs, which include cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half, reducing child and maternal mortality, ensuring that every child goes to elementary school, promoting the rights of women, and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases.
“FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART SHALL BE ALSO.” LK 12:34
The job is far from complete. The past few years have seen a trend of increases in poverty-focused development assistance, but these increases are less than promised and much less than needed. In a country as wealthy as the U.S., how can it be that less than half of 1% of the budget goes to fighting poverty, hunger and disease around the world?
The Asian tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan and hurricanes in the U.S. showed us how vulnerable poor people are to natural disaster. But other disasters can befall a family and lead to hunger: loss of a job, unexpected medical expenses. Should an elderly person have to make choices between buying medication and buying food? Parents in the U.S. and around the world will eat only one meal a day – if that – so their children can be fed.
The Gospel of Luke tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also.” (Lk: 12:34) This applies as much to the heart of our nation as to our own lives. A commitment to hungry and poor people is the embodiment of bringing faith to politics. How we allocate our nations treasures is a good place to begin.
As people of faith and conscience, we can and should remind leaders of their responsibilities to their people and offer constructive alternatives. We can bring about public policy changes that will end hunger and poverty in our lifetimes. It’s not a difficult thing to do, and it doesn’t take a lot of time. It just takes the will to act and speak out on behalf of hungry and poor people.
Most important, pray for God to support and comfort our sisters and brothers who live with hunger, poverty and disease; to be with our nation’s leaders so that they may make wise and compassionate decisions; and to guide people of faith and conscience on their journey to do justice and love mercy. By turning to your faith, you become part of a community engaged in God’s reconciling, healing work.