Mass. bishops urge 'regard for the vulnerable' in budget cuts

BRAINTREE -- With Federal stimulus dollars gone and the economy still sputtering, the state's Catholic bishops are asking state and local lawmakers to protect the "vulnerable" as they consider planned budget cuts.

At the state level, there are $500 million in cutbacks proposed for the 2012 budget.

"Our plea is that in the decisions facing our elected officials, and in the discussions and actions of all citizens, there be preserved, for the sake of human dignity, a special place and regard for the vulnerable -- those forced to choose between heat and food, and between shelter and clothing -- those for whom the destination of every dollar is now so consequential," the bishops said in their Feb. 9 statement entitled "Standing in Solidarity with All."

The statement was issued through the Church's public policy arm in the state, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC).

In their statement, the bishops cite federal labor statistics released in January that indicate Massachusetts' unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, below the national average of 9 percent. They also cite January foreclosure statistics released by the Warren Group, a local firm which studies real estate trends, which indicate that Massachusetts saw over 12,000 foreclosures in 2010.

"As bishops, we know about and are most concerned with the human dimensions of these economic hard times," the bishops said.

They also cite a statewide housing shortage as hundreds of families who have been displaced are squeezed into "inadequate housing," and overcrowded shelters.

"We all face a punishing intersection of rising human needs and declining resources that threatens the dignity of the human person and the stability of family life," they said.

The bishops warned that state social service cuts will have a negative effect on local communities.

"In the devastation of shrinking city and state budgets across the country, all face excruciating choices," the statement says. "But we caution that while the temptation to turn away from the growing social needs confronting our cities and towns may seem attractive -- especially when our own personal budgets are squeezed -- our capacity to move beyond the many complex problems we face today depends on our willingness to overcome that temptation."

"Only then can we provide a secure pathway for the Commonwealth's children and grandchildren," they also said.

While the bishops acknowledge the need for budget cuts, they are calling for efficiency by encouraging programs that provide the greatest long-term benefits. They cited programs that support housing, health care, employment, education, and nutrition.

Such programs are "rooted in the protection and nurturance of the dignity of the human person," the bishops said.

"As a society, our shared moral commitment to these social goods equates to security for all because it protects and promotes the common good," they said.

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston President Debbie Rambo pointed out that the recent decline in the job market has particularly affected those making $25,000 per year or less, as well as teen and young adult workers. Among those groups, she said, the unemployment rate is double the state average of 8.2 percent.

Rambo also said that Boston-based pantries have helped about 30 new families daily as a result of the economic downturn, and estimates similar trends have occurred across the archdiocese.

"We're seeing the working poor, people who have lost their jobs, run through savings, doing everything they possibly can to stay ahead of the bills and, in the end, find themselves short," Rambo said.

Rambo said that the bishops' concern is advocating for the poor including the "newly poor," those struggling with recent job loss.

"The bishops' position has been to speak for people who are often unheard," Rambo said.