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Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria's meals program run by Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities agencies across the United States could face huge budget holes in other areas should Congress approve the president’s proposed budget. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria's meals program run by Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities agencies across the United States could face huge budget holes in other areas should Congress approve the president’s proposed budget. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

If President Donald J. Trump gets his way, federal support for popular foster grandparent programs will be a thing of the past.

The programs, in which low-income senior citizens receive a small stipend to spend time with vulnerable students in public schools, is just one of several domestic programs that would lose funding under the president’s proposed budget.

Tiffany D. Page, who administers the program for Catholic Charities of West Michigan, told America the cuts could be “devastating” to both the seniors and the students they serve.

“The foster grandparent program provides low income seniors an opportunity to receive a small stipend and a chance to give back to the community,” she said.

Schools with high-risk students, including some in the poorest counties in Michigan, reach out to the foster grandparent program for tutors in reading and math, Ms. Page explained, leading to “mutually beneficial relationships that provide a meaningful volunteer experience for low income seniors while providing a great benefit to the school systems.”

She worries that the roughly 100 volunteers would fall further into poverty should the program lose funding.

“Taking away that little bit of income we provide them could be devastating,” she said. Should that happen, she said she would appeal to the community in order to raise funds to keep the program going.

“I just wonder what the government’s response would be in the utilization of social services that will be required” should the seniors who utilize the program lose their modest income, she said.

In Buffalo, N.Y., about 100 senior citizens spend time with special-needs students in the public schools through a program run by Catholic Charities. Tish Brady, the C.O.O. of the Catholic Charities of Buffalo, told America that cuts to the program would harm both the seniors and the students they serve.

“Children wouldn’t have access to seasoned adults who are totally dedicated to their success,” she said. “This program really not only fills a really big void for the school system, but it gives them a chance to be engaged in the community in a meaningful way.”

The programs in Michigan and Buffalo each received several hundred thousand dollars in 2016 from the Corporation for National and Community Service, an office created by former President George H. W. Bush and expanded by President Bill Clinton to foster volunteerism in the United States. Under Mr. Trump’s budget, the office would be eliminated altogether.

Catholic Charities agencies across the United States could face huge budget holes in other areas should Congress approve the president's approved budget.

In 2016, various Catholic Charities agencies received nearly $14 million directly from the office, primarily for programs aimed at keeping the elderly plugged into local communities.

Aside from losing federal funding for the foster grandparent program, Catholic Charities agencies across the United States could face huge budget holes in other areas should Congress approve the president’s proposed budget, which calls for eliminating nearly 20 independent agencies and more than 60 federal programs, all while increasing defense spending by nearly $30 billion.

Last year, Catholic Charities agencies received more than $400 million directly from the federal government to carry out a range of programs, from refugee resettlement to housing homeless veterans, according to a search on usaspending.gov. The total amount of government support for Catholic Charities, dispersed through the states and other agencies, is much higher.

A 2014 study conducted by Catholic Charities USA found that total income for their 177 member agencies was about $4.5 billion, with about $2.8 billion coming from government sources. This would include federal, state and local government support.

The total number of dollars flowing from Washington to local Catholic Charities agencies may be far greater, as money is often given to states that then disburse grants and contracts to Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities of Chicago, for example, had a total budget of $180 million in 2016, with $155 million coming from government sources. Of that, about $105 million came from the state of Illinois, though the state gets a portion of that funding from the federal government before passing it on to Catholic Charities. It is known as “federal pass through money.”

 Joanie Barnard and Molly O'Donnell of the Family Success Center are seen in an undated photo teaching a budgeting class in Portland, Ore. The new Catholic Charities center, currently under construction, will provide a range of financial wellness services to clients in one location. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities of Oregon)

Joanie Barnard and Molly O'Donnell of the Family Success Center are seen in an undated photo teaching a budgeting class in Portland, Ore. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities of Oregon) 

While specifics of the federal budget will not be worked out for several months, Mr. Trump is proposing to slash the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, or $15 billion, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development could see cuts of about 13 percent, or about $6 billion.

Both of those federal agencies are big funders of local Catholic Charities agencies. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston, for example, reported on tax forms that it received close to $8 million from H.H.S. and nearly $1 million from H.U.D. in 2015.

Brian Corbin, executive vice president of Catholic Charities USA, said while specifics of the budget are not yet known, any big federal cuts would undoubtedly impact local services at Catholic Charities agencies.

“Any cuts to housing, Health and Human Services, or even to refugee resettlement all impacts us,” he told America.

Aside from impacts to Catholic Charities, some Catholic leaders worry that the proposed budget could be devastating to the social safety net.

“The social service system right now is already fragile, and to do what is being proposed in the budget is starting to dismantle it,” the Rev. Larry Snyder, who led Catholic Charities from 2004 until 2014, told America. “There’s a belief in Washington that someone else will make up this money, but local governments don’t have it, churches certainly can’t make up that money and neither can private philanthropists.”

Other Catholic leaders worry that Catholic charitable organizations should be so reliant on government funding.

But other Catholic leaders worry that Catholic charitable organizations, including Catholic Charities, should be so reliant on government funding. They point to the current uncertainty as one symptom of operating with government money.

“The reason we’re confronting a crisis in this political season is because they’ve become so dependent on it,” the Rev. Robert Sirico, who leads the Acton Institute, a free-market advocacy group, told America.

“Within the church, we’ve really got to take subsidiarity very seriously and say we’re really going to work diligently to make sure needs are met at the most local level and really understand that any intervention, whether city, state or federal, should be seen as temporary.”

“We need to be more innovative. If we think there is this resource we can appeal to first, that’s where our thinking is going to go. How can I get them to give us this money?” he said.

Though he thinks the government has some role to play in social services, Father Sirico said that by relying on government funding, Catholic charitable groups allow the government to set the agenda.

But Mr. Corbin said public-private partnerships have allowed agencies like Catholic Charities to make a difference in their communities. He said agencies with large housing programs, like those in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, are outliers when it comes to reliance on government support. Nationally, the median is 37 percent of an agency’s budget coming from government sources, with private fundraising playing a big role in covering the remaining costs.

Still, he said government support is crucial to Catholic Charities’ operation.

For example, “we can’t do a low-income housing tax-credit project without some public money,” he said.

“We see that as promoting the common good and giving some local flexibility for private institutions, for faith-based institutions, to respond to their local communities to the best of their ability,” he continued.

As various lawmakers of both parties have pushed back on the president’s budget, suggesting that such drastic cuts to domestic programs are a non-starter, Mr. Corbin said Catholic Charities is taking a wait and see approach to how the president’s budget proposal will fare on Capitol Hill.

That’s where Mr. Corbin was on Wednesday, meeting with lawmakers and their aides to make the case about the importance of funding programs that benefit the poor.

As for what he’s hearing, “It sounds like people are saying, like with any presidential budget, it’s just the beginning of the conversation.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Vincent Gaglione
7 years ago

I was astounded by the figures reported in the article on the dependency of Catholic Charities programs nationwide on federal funding. At the same time the nation’s bishops harp on the alleged deprivation of religious liberty by federal overreach. My first reaction, who are we kidding here?

If other religious entities are receiving the same proportion of aid as is the Catholic Church, then I object. I do not want my tax money being used to support belief systems and entities, many of which are specifically anti-Catholic. I make that outrageous statement to both a political and Catholic institutional purpose.

From a political perspective I find that many of my conservative Catholic confreres maintain some very rigid perspectives on how the government is wasting money on “welfare” programs. They also strongly want tax relief. Ironically most of them are very economically comfortable people. None of them are in any danger of being tossed out into the streets! Besides their ignorance of the real poverty situations that exist widely in the nation, they are totally ignorant of the facts in this article, as I was. I am happy to read that we get to channel federal monies for the poor. I am not happy that the nation’s bishops tell us nothing about this in their dioceses. They suck up the money and then complain about federal interference in Catholic religious life. That’s hypocrisy of the first order, which leads me to my point about the Catholic institutional church.

The issue of dependency on the federal government for these programs belies the fact that our parishes and dioceses have failed spectacularly to engage our own members in both voluntary contributions as well as volunteer activities to support Catholic programs. Of course there are exceptions but I am speaking on a broad national level. There’s a whole lot of Catholic money and personal time out there being used for “wine, women, and song” which needs to be directed to the charitable functions of the church. Why is that? I suggest that Catholic social teaching had been so underplayed and undertaught in this nation as to be almost an afterthought. And my conservative friends will no doubt find my next statement to be even more outrageous. It starts when slavery starts in the United States. As a national church, even when the papacy condemned slavery, the Catholic Bishops of the United States largely ignored the issue. That has been their stance on every social issue since…death penalty, nuclear disarmament, undeclared wars, etc. Except abortion, of course, which they have turned into their self-righteous singular political campaign that distracts and diverts and gives legitimacy to ignore all the other major issues that confront the nation.

I contribute substantially for social causes, both tax-deductible and not. I do so out of my surplus, let no one think otherwise. But I do not see that among the majority of my co-religionists who can afford to do so. This article points up in my mind to a serious flaw in the American Catholic Church.

Jim Lund
7 years ago

Fortunately, as a nation we have acknowledged the wisdom of the Federal Government funding Catholic Charities agencies to serve the common good. Foster grandparents is a wonderful example of programming that serves older people and younger people in a way that dignifies all. The nation's budget is a moral document that expresses what we value as a people. In this case, the modest amount of money the foster grandparent program costs indicates that we place some value on retired people having the opportunity to impact young lives in a positive, uplifting way.

To think that private fundraising could generate the resources for the programs that the Corporation for National and Community Services funds is naive. To use another example, consider all the food that goes to food insecure families in the U.S. Some think food pantries and soup kitchens could do it all. Yet, imagine all food that helps food insecure people fits into twenty grocery bags. Only one would be filled by private charity. The other nineteen come from Federal nutrition programs. Thus, people served by Catholic Charities benefit not only from Federal programs that flow through its agencies. They also are literally kept alive by nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The people who decry Catholic Charities receiving funding for programs like foster grandparents also think that if parishes just dug deeper they could provide food for the 43 million that SNAP serves at a cost of $71 billion.

I am old enough to remember when the CBS News special Hunger in America in 1968 shocked the nation. A few years later the Food Stamp program rolled out nationwide. Private philanthropy could not have done what it did. Nor, could we expect individual giving to fund all the programs that Catholic Charities has the capacity to implement, programs that make our communities and nation great.

Roberta Lavin
7 years ago

Very well stated Jim.

Joe Kessler
7 years ago

What President Trump is trying to do is shrink the size and scope of government. How can we as Catholics say it’s okay for us to take the money of our neighbor to fund our charities and then get upset when they take ours to fund some of their own, such as Planned Parenthood or the National Association of the Arts?

I think we need to remember that the federal government is not some wealthy grandfather from whom we are asking money. That money came from our neighbors and friends through taxes. Would it not save millions of dollars if we simply gave the money directly to Catholic Charities, rather than running it through the government, where so much of it is eaten up in bureaucracy?

Let’s work to make the government smaller so that we all have more money in our pockets to donate to Catholic Charities.

Jim Lein
7 years ago

Catholics voted Trump in. Looks like he's not only determined to cut government programs like SNAP, WIC, TANF and Medicaid, but Catholic programs too. The poor whom Jesus urged us to care for seem left out of Trump's focus.

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
7 years ago

Jesus has you, Jim, to support the poor. Jesus never called on the US Government but did call you....by name.
Pony up, Jim. Surely you have Meryl Streep's phone number on speed dial, or just text her.

Jim Lein
7 years ago

I do pony up in helping a local food pantry, for one example. Many others across the nation do, too. But these efforts provide only 5% of food for the needy. The rest, 95%, is met through government programs, including WIC, food for Women, Infants and Children. Yet many including perhaps you are for cutting or abolishing these programs, for taking nutrition from babies and from the unborn. With over 300 million people, we need some organized efforts to meet needs, prioritizing needs ahead of wants, expecting those focusing on satisfying wants to give a little toward meeting needs including of the unborn. I would prefer some type of national volunteer program to meet needs, but there would have to be a phasing out of government and phasing in of private efforts. We can't just cut needed programs because they are government. Or maybe we can and will.

Camilla Martocchia
7 years ago

Unfortunately we shoul have thought about these issues before the elections. But Catholics were urged to vote for Trump so this is what we get.

Joseph J Dunn
7 years ago

Anyone interested in a preferential option for the poor should welcome a serious, evidence-based review of the nation's non-defense discretionary spending--something that has not occurred since the 'welfare reform' legislation of the Clinton administration, twenty three years ago. President Obama's final Mid-Session Budget Review https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2017-MSR/pdf/BUDGET-2017-MSR.pdf projected budget deficits growing annually for the next ten years, and that without any new programs (additional college tuition aid or debt relief, early child education, etc).

On page 2 of this review is a one-page description of health care improvements attributed to the ACA and to Medicare incentive changes. A similar one-page explanation of benefits arising from the other discretionary (which by budget-language definition excludes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) programs would be welcome, although some skepticism is appropriate since the nation (and mainly low- or no-income households) suffers from low adult literacy rates, high obesity rates, and high incarceration rates, as noted often in these pages. What is working, and what best practices should be more widely used? What programs are failing, and deserved to be scrapped?
Pope Paul VI wrote in Populorum Progressio, “…the individual who is animated by true charity labors skillfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely.” Pope Benedict restated that sentiment into Caritas in Veritate (No. 30). Pope Francis writes in Joy of the Gospel, "Growth in justice requires...an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."
Catholic Charities officials can bring much to that very necessary conversation.

Mike Evans
7 years ago

This is what happens when bishops play coyly with legislators, governors and congressional representatives. Our Bishops need to be on high level personal terms with local political incumbents and challengers alike of every party. Just depicting the need is crucial as well as the justice and efficiency of non-profit agencies. Catholic Charities often include members of other faiths in common cause. The church has great and universal respect; use it properly and engage these leadership folk directly with the personal warmth and appeal that can only come from an active and dedicated bishop. Catholic Charities, hospitals, dioceses and parishes provide the important and difficult to sustain ministries that help ALL people of whatever faith under the sponsorship of Christ himself. Every elected and appointed official needs to know that the power and influence of the Catholic Church will penetrate into every instance of injustice, poverty, abuse, and neglect, even our own.

Roberta Lavin
7 years ago

The vindictive instinct in me says this is what happens when the majority of Catholics and the majority of the Bishops support a man that has never show any interest in the Church, the poor, charity, or anything other than making money at the expense of those that have less. However, I think we must all find our voice and stand against this injustice. As Jim Lund so well stated it is irrational to believe that private charitable donations can make up for the funding that will be lost.

Many faith-based organizations are only to carry out the good work they do because of government and faith-based partnerships that fill the gaps between individual and corporate giving and the need that exist. During natural disasters, much of the work that is done by organizations such as Catholic Charities is partially funded by the federal government. Together both are stronger.

I was amazed when I was running a federal program to learn about the capabilities of Catholic Charities. Our partnership with them not only made our program strong, but it touched the lives of everyone that interacted with them. Frankly, I believe it takes a person of limited faith to not realize how God works through such organizations to influence the path of the Nation.

Bruce Snowden
7 years ago

Once Pope St JP II counseled at a NYC Yankee Stadium Youth Rally, to give not out of our abundance (surplus) , but out of our very substance, (need) based I suggest on what the Gospel Widow did, who gave "all she had to live on" meriting praise from Jesus. I've never given that way, even though at times "over doing" a little was pretty painful. It's hard to live by the axiom, "Don't give until it helps, give until it hurts!"

Our Catholic Church has done very much to help the poor with government help and also collectively at Mass, surprising to me that the government plays such a large part. I guess we laity should be doing more, "giving 'till it hurts" a lot doing so already. Respectfully, priests and Bishops should join the mix, by simplifying their lives, eating from paper cups so to speak, some of the potpourri "giving 'till it hurts" prepares. Why? Well. a line from an AMERICA Magazine article comes to mind, so "that no one should have nothing!" Doable? At our wedding Fifty years ago the priest told my wife and me, "Sacrifice is usually irksome. Love makes it easy, perfect love makes it a joy!" But not easy!

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