Faith leaders ask Congress to boost overseas pandemic aid

The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen March 18, 2020. (CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three dozen faith-based organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, have asked Congress to immediately fund efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic around the world.

"If we don’t beat COVID-19 everywhere, we can’t beat it anywhere," CRS said in a news release publicizing the letter sent July 1.

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CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, said the faith leaders were seeking $10 billion to $15 billion in aid for the more than 70% of countries the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described as ill-equipped to handle outbreaks of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The amount being sought is 0.005% of the $3 trillion Congress authorized in a series of domestic pandemic relief bills since March, CRS said.

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Members of Congress continue to discuss another relief package to aid U.S. workers and institutions. In May, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act. It did not include spending on international aid.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, has said the bill would not be taken up in that chamber. Republicans are undecided on whether to adopt another aid package although talk has emerged in recent weeks that another relief bill was necessary to prevent a deepening of the economic recession the U.S. is experiencing.

The faith leaders' letter said that if the international response is neglected, "we worry that many lives could be at risk."

"A recent report estimated that up to 3 million deaths could occur in these countries without additional humanitarian assistance, and millions more stand on the brink of starvation given the economic upheaval in the world's poorest countries," the letter said.

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Among those signing the letter was Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. He was joined by leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision USA, Food for the Hungry, Sudan Relief Fund and Compassion International, among others.

Vital humanitarian, global health and diplomatic programs from the U.S. can help save lives through prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the illness, and by providing personal protective equipment, the organizations said.

"It is also critical that our country respond to the dire economic, food security, humanitarian and developmental needs heightened by the effects of COVID-19, and to continue ongoing humanitarian operations including treating malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and promoting religious freedom around the world," the letter said.

The leaders also stressed the Christian responsibility to care for people in need.

"At this critical moment, we cannot turn our back on our brothers and sisters around the world," the letter said. "As a nation, we have both the ability and the obligation to provide resources which will prevent the worldwide spread of this disease and alleviate the suffering of those afflicted, and in so doing, we are certain it will also protect us here at home as well."

A poll conduct in April by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and Morning Consult found that 72% of American voters support assistance to vulnerable people overseas in response to the illness.

The letter was sent as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and some countries has spiked in recent weeks, while people have returned to work and businesses have reopened. The worldwide death toll neared 535,000 July 6, with 132,000 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

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