The wave of newly elected, super-conservative “Tea Party” candidates who came to Congress in 2011 were itching to shut the government down if they didn’t get their way. By refusing to compromise, they managed to get the entire Republican Party in Congress to push for deep, deep cuts in nearly all the programs that provide help and opportunity to people in poverty in our country and around the world. A group of church leaders – liberal and conservative, Protestant and Catholic – came together as the “Circle of Protection.” We were joined by the top leaders of many and diverse church bodies and organizations in resisting cuts to funding for poverty-focused programs. We met with political leaders in both parties, including both President Barack Obama and Speaker Paul Ryan, urging them not to cut these programs. Bread for the World and some of the other groups mobilized grassroots support from church members and others throughout the country.
Between 2011 and 2018, every budget that passed either house of Congress proposed to cut roughly $2 trillion from low-income programs over ten years. The nation weathered repeated budget crises and government shutdowns, and President Trump added strength to the push for cuts. But remarkably, Congress decided again and again – always by narrow votes – against any substantial cuts to low-income programs. The Circle of Protection played a significant role in this important outcome. At the end of 2019, Congress approved the first increases in low-income programs since 2010.
But at about the same time, the Trump Administration began unveiling proposed changes in administrative rules intended to achieve some of the cuts that Congress had rejected. I’ve been a co-chair of the Circle of Protection since it began, and it fell to me to draft a Circle of Protection statement that explains and opposes this line of the Administration activity:
Church Leaders Speak Out:
Administration Actions that Affect People in Poverty
Published February 11, 2020
As leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity, representing church bodies and networks serving more than 100 million Americans, we are concerned about administration action to cut safety net programs that help low-income people. The gospel of God’s love for all people moves us to speak together on this issue.
On April 10, 2018, President Trump issued Executive Order 13828, “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.” It instructed government departments to look for ways to reduce the number of people who depend on help from means-tested programs.
We support the goal of helping Americans move from poverty to financial independence. But some of the administration’s policy changes and proposed cuts in funding for low-income programs are likely to add to the hunger, poverty, and economic insecurity which are already far too widespread in our country:
The Department of Agriculture has proposed three new rules that could cut SNAP food assistance for 3.7 million people and eliminate the automatic eligibility of 1 million children to free or reduced-price school meals.
The administration has taken a series of actions to reduce the number of people who get health insurance on the Affordable Health Care exchanges,v and the number of people covered by health insurance has dropped by 7 million since the end of 2016. The administration now wants to allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid. Courts have ruled that this is inconsistent with the law. But Arkansas moved ahead before the courts acted, and 18,000 people lost health insurance. If work requirements on Medicaid are implemented nationwide, 1.4 million to 4 million people may lose health insurance. Finally, the administration has announced a proposed rule change that would allow states to convert into a block grant the federal funding they receive to expand Medicaid coverage. Over time, block-granting could take health insurance away from many families who live on the edge of poverty.
The administration has proposed two housing measures that would increase poverty. One would reduce protection from discrimination against people with disabilities, seniors and people of color. Another would evict from public housing 100,000 legal immigrants whose families include undocumented people.
The administration has proposed changes in how the poverty line is calculated that would, over time, reduce means-tested assistance for millions more people.
Courts have ruled that many of these changes are inconsistent with the law. But the administration is appealing, and the Supreme Court last month decided to let a new rule that affects immigrants go into effect. From now on, immigrants who receive only a small amount of public assistance may be disqualified from ever achieving residency status. Even before this rule went into effect, the threat of it was enough to convince millions of people to forgo needed assistance with food or health care.
The administration has also restricted opportunities and protection for immigrants, refugees and people of color in other ways, and our nation has neglected humanitarian concerns in other parts of the world.
President Trump yesterday released a budget that proposes even more massive cuts to low-income programs over the next 10 years. As Congress considers and passes FY21 appropriations bills, we ask them to maintain adequately funded safety net programs that provide help and opportunity for our most vulnerable neighbors, both at home and abroad.
Continued growth of the U.S. economy since 2010 has improved job opportunities for many struggling families. But while the stock market has soared, poverty and hunger have declined very gradually. Neither the administration nor Congress has taken any steps to address our ballooning federal debt and deficits in order to preserve our nation’s long-term economic health.
We can do better. Jesus taught that the peoples of the world will be judged by what we do for the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner (Matthew 25:31-46).
As the Circle of Protection, we have been asking all the presidential candidates to make short video statements in answer to the question, “What would you do to provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in our country and around the world?” We have worked in a bipartisan way to bring our request to the attention of all the candidates, and eight of them have made statements (see www.circleofprotection.us). We invite President Trump to make a poverty statement and respond to our concerns.
Members of the Circle of Protection Steering Committee
*Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
The Most Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Walter Kim, President, National Association of Evangelicals
Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Ambassador and General Superintendent Emerita, Wesleyan Church
*Rev. Carlos Malavé, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together U.S.A. (in his personal capacity)
Dr. Mary Nelson, Interim President, Christian Community Development Association
Diane Randall, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Dr. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
Rev. Lori Tapia, National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
*Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners
*Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network and President, Skinner Leadership Institute
Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches
* Circle of Protection Steering Committee CoCoordinators are marked with an asterisk