As we head into 2018, public interest in anti-poverty programs is rising. Contributing factors include limited wage growth, limited access to training and educational opportunities, and automation and innovation that further limit opportunities. Yet some in Congress are seeing opportunities ahead to cut these programs under the auspices of “reform.”
Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security supplement retirement income and provide essential healthcare to the working poor and those unable to work. These programs along with SNAP, disability income, and unemployment insurance represent our nation’s commitment to seniors, the poor, hungry, disabled, jobless and sick.
The funding for these programs has largely been excluded from annual budget debates, as funds are designed to meet demand. In recent decades, budget cuts have been made to other public programs, including those that fund economic, community, workforce development, and general education. The result has been decreased investment in opportunities for Americans to gain the skills necessary to succeed in a 21st century economy, resulting in fewer paths to independence for those dependent on public assistance.
Reducing the national debt will require a reduction in the number of people dependent on safety net programs. Unfortunately, these programs are often misunderstood and overly simplistic explanations often result in calls to simply cut funding or restrict access.
To seriously address the issue of systemic poverty, reforms must focus on increasing opportunities for people to qualify for better jobs and wages so that they no longer depend on the safety net programs.
As we prepare for more specific calls to action for the Pray, Fast, Act Campaign, we ask that you join us and pause during this month in particular to:
PRAY for those trapped in cyclical poverty and for our nation to heed Christ’s call to adequately care for those in need.
Martin Luther taught that there is no greater service to God than Christian love that helps and serves the needy. He roots Christian neighbor-love in the act of receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which creates a community bound to freely and lovingly assist others with the same compassionate love Christ has shown to them.
“When you have partake of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship…Here your heart must go out in love and learn that this is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in his holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. You must fight, work, pray and…have heartfelt sympathy…Here the saying of Paul is fulfilled, ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ [Galatians 6:2].’” (Luther’s Works on Word and Sacrament 35:54)
This same love also shapes Christian advocacy for policies and programs that address the hunger, health and well-being of neighbors. Support for entitlement programs to meet basic needs extend service to our neighbor far beyond what we can directly provide as individuals or congregations.
FAST to remember the millions of Americans who, even with jobs and public assistance, are still unable to feed their families, and struggle to afford retirement or medical care.