Catholic Charities faces uncertainty as sequestration looms

By Maria Wiering

Twitter: @ReviewWiering
If Congress does not act to prevent $85 billion in spending cuts scheduled to begin March 1, Catholic Charities of Baltimore may be among the impacted institutions, said its executive director William J. McCarthy Jr.
“It concerns me, and it concerns Archbishop (William E.) Lori,” he said. “A budget is a moral document. It sets forth our priorities as a society and as a people – what do we value, and what do we think is most important? By cutting aid to the poor, whether it’s the children, whether it’s seniors or others living in poverty at the expense of other things being saved, that’s a real challenge to us.”
Experts predict that the impact of sequestration will register gradually over the coming months, beginning with the furloughing of hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Maryland is home to nearly 300,000 federal workers. Many others work with organizations that contract or partner with government.
Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were among 100 Christian leaders who signed a letter Feb. 25 urging Congress to adopt bipartisan solutions to protect the poor and vulnerable as it crafts fiscal policies.
“The focus of our nation’s budget negotiations should not be about which politicians win or lose, but about whether our budget decisions reflect our values,” the letter stated.
The sequestration looms at a time when 16.2 percent of Marylanders are reporting increased food hardship, an indicator of poverty. In 2012, nearly one in six Marylanders reported not having enough money to buy food at some points in the prior 12 months, according to a report released Feb. 28 by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center. The percentage is down slightly from 16.5 in 2010.
“People are suffering,” McCarthy said. “We have a duty to take care of those who are suffering and to provide for them.”
Catholic Charities of Baltimore is the nation’s third-largest Catholic Charities organization and Maryland’s largest human services provider.
More Marylanders may turn to charitable services in the wake of sequestration if their jobs or wages are affected, McCarthy said. Meanwhile, Catholic Charities’ funding may face an uncertain future.
More than 76 percent of the organization’s 2012 operating budget came from government fees and grants. A majority of Catholic Charities’ federal funding goes to health care, McCarthy said.
A sequestration-related downturn in the state’s economy could limit some private benefactors’ resources as well, McCarthy said.
“Who knows for sure,” he said. “I could see it impacting Head Start, I could see it impacting our ability to provide secure housing for people.”
Congress has a responsibility to craft a responsible budget, McCarthy said.
“I’d rather cuts be made with a more precise way, using a scalpel rather than a meat cleaver,” he said. “People’s lives are at stake.”
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Feb. 28, 2013

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The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.