The Federal Budget

Can’t Balance the Budget on the Backs of People Living in Poverty

The nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people. Programs meant to support people living in poverty can be made more effective, but not by cutting benefits that harm struggling families.

The federal budget is a moral document that reflects our priorities as a society.

The budget includes two types of spending: discretionary and mandatory (or entitlement) expenditures. Discretionary spending is subject to the annual appropriations process where Congress sets the level of spending on programs. These programs include education, various social service programs, housing, environmental stewardship, and defense, and equals approximately one-third of all federal spending.

Mandatory spending, approximately two-thirds of the federal budget, includes entitlement programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and low-income tax credits. These expenditures are not part of the appropriations process–simply put, if someone meets a set of criteria, they receive the benefit. Congress, however, can control this spending by limiting eligibility or rules on spending.

A budget fulfills the demands of justice and moral obligations to future generations by protecting the lives and dignity of poor and vulnerable people Every budget decision should be assessed by:

  • Whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
  • The needs of those who are hungry and homeless. Those without work or in poverty should come first.
  • Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
  • The other side of deficit reduction is what the government brings in. Difficult economic times require shared sacrifice by all. This includes raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
  • Revenue is low because millions of people are out of work, underemployed, or suffering from tax cuts. Putting people back to work in decent jobs must be a primary goal of any deficit reduction plan.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

  • The best way to overcome poverty and build a just economy is decent work at decent wages for all those who can work.
  • There are currently 4 job seekers for every 1 opening. Clearly, the economy has failed to create sufficient work.
  • Government has an obligation to provide assistance to jobless workers and their families as they search for work.
  • Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits must be extended until the economy fully recovers, and must not include limitations and barriers that would harm the most vulnerable jobless and their families.

Child Tax Credit

  • The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is pro-work, pro-family and is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs of the federal government. In 2009, 2.3 million people, including 1.3 million children, were kept out of poverty by the child tax credit—which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and CCHD have long supported.
  • The CTC is aimed at children in working families to ensure they can live in dignity. Current law requires a social security number for the child, but a parent can apply using a taxpayer identification number (TIN).
  • Proposals to require a social security number for the taxpayer would leave out one of the most vulnerable groups—children of working poor immigrant families. To exclude them from the CTC is unjust. Children of immigrant workers, many of whom are American citizens, did not cause the deficit—they should not be forced to pay for it.