Aware that distribution of federal anti-poverty funds might shift with a new Congress and White House, lobbyists from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA came to Oregon in February to gather information.
Leaders of the state’s Catholic helping agencies convened Feb. 28 to offer ideas that will be brought back to Washington, D.C., in an effort to make sure that Catholic values are part of the debate.
Lucas Swanepoel of Catholic Charities USA and Anthony Granado of the USCCB reviewed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s budget plans and how those fit, or don’t fit, into Catholic social doctrine.
Ryan, a Catholic from Wisconsin, has proposed block grants and “opportunity grants” for state services to people who are poor. He says his proposal aims to make sure that people are helped to find work instead of being incentivized to avoid work. He also wants to simplify education aid.
On their Oregon visit, Swanepoel and Granado asked Catholic anti-poverty leaders about key insights that should be put forward and defended if needed.
The lobbyists surveyed Oregon leaders on what federal money is used for ministries and asked how current federal programs are helping people in need. Swanepoel and Granado also wanted to know about obstacles faced by faith-based organizations during the past eight years.
Terry McDonald, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, told the lobbyists that he does not trust block grants, which tend to get pared down. He fears chronic lack of funding for lower-cost housing.
McDonald also said that any diminution of the Affordable Care Act would be a step backward. “It’s been a godsend to the working poor,” McDonald said, to agreement from most of his peers. “You are not losing your housing because you have huge hospital bills.”
Expanded health coverage also has helped Catholic hospitals, which no longer need to foot the bill when low-income people must use emergency rooms for medical care.
Swanepoel and Granado asked the leaders to encourage clients to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which supports low-income households with workers.
Agency leaders attending the Feb. 28 meeting include: Rose Fuller of Northwest Family Services, Deacon Richard Birkel of Catholic Charities of Oregon, Tom Mulhern of Catholic Community Services of Lane County, Jim Seymour of Catholic Community Services of the Mid-Willamette Valley and Central Coast, Brian Ferschweiler of the St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council and Terry McDonald of the St. Vincent de Paul Lane County Council. Also on hand were Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith; Deacon Kevin Welch of the Pastoral Ministries Department of the Archdiocese of Portland; Matt Cato of the archdiocese’s department of Life, Justice and Peace; and John Matcovich, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese. Roger Martin and Todd Cooper of the Oregon Catholic Conference hosted the gathering.