13 Christian leaders criticize Trump policies they fear will increase poverty

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks during a prayer service unveiling the new declaration "Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis" at the National City Church in Washington, D.C. on May 24, 2018. Curry is flanked by Sojourners founder Jim Wallis. | (Photo: The Christian Post)

Thirteen Christian leaders have signed onto a letter speaking out against President Donald Trump’s budget proposal and other administration policies that they say will add to the nation’s poverty and hunger issues. 

The Circle of Protection, a coalition comprised of leaders from various Christian organizations, published an open letter Tuesday calling out “administration actions that affect people in poverty.”

“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 letter reads. “The gospel of God’s love for all people moves us to speak together on this issue.”

The coalition is comprised of mostly left-leaning Christian leaders, including Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Barbara Williams Skinner of the National African American Clergy Network. 

Other signatories to the letter include the National Association of Evangelicals President Walter Kim, Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Jim Winkler of the National Council of Churches and Bread for the World President David Beckmann. 

“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,” the letter explains, citing Matthew 25. 

Among many things, the letter takes issue with an executive order signed by Trump in April 2018 that instructs government departments to look for ways to impose tougher rules and work requirements for eligibility in means-tested public assistance programs.

The agencies were instructed to gauge whether programs are helping individuals and families avoid long-term dependence.

The leaders argue that while they support the goal of helping Americans toward financial independence, they fear some of the administration’s policy changes and proposed cuts to low-income programs are “likely to add to the hunger, poverty and economic insecurity which are already far too widespread in our country.”

Nearly 40 million people are living in poverty in the U.S., according to Poverty USA

The letter blasts new rules from the Department of Agriculture that some fear will lead to 3.7 million people being stripped of their food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. There is also concern that proposed changes will lead to 1 million schoolchildren losing automatic eligibility for free 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, and the number of people covered by health insurance has dropped by 7 million since the end of 2016,” it says.

“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.”

The leaders argue that if work requirements on Medicaid are implemented nationwide, anywhere from 1.4 million to 4 million people may lose their health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The leaders spoke out against a proposed rule change that would allow states to convert federal funding they receive to expand Medicaid coverage into block grants. However, the letter contends that the block-granting over time will take too many families on the edge of poverty off of health insurance.

On housing, they criticized two proposed measures that they believe will increase poverty. The administration submitted a budget proposal that would cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget by 15 percent

One [measure] would reduce protection from discrimination against people with disabilities, seniors and people of color,” they contend. “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.”

The Christian leaders also call out a Department of Homeland Security’s “public charge” rule that the U.S. Supreme Court let go into effect last month. The rule altered the way the federal government judges the “the public charge ground of inadmissibility” for immigrants applying for visas and green cards who rely on government assistance. 

“Even before this rule went into effect, the threat of it was enough to convince millions of people to forego needed assistance with food or health care,” the leaders argue.  “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.”

The leaders fear Trump’s budget proposal submitted Monday will mean “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.”

Circle of Protection has asked all 2020 presidential candidates to make short video statements answering the question: “What would you do to provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people” around the world. 

To date, seven 2020 presidential candidates have submitted videos to the Circle of Protection. 

“Show me your budget and I will tell you your values,” Wallis said in a statement. “Let me be clear: a budget is a moral document and an articulation of priorities. As Christians, we are compelled to protect and uplift the poor in our nation and beyond. The current budget, and continued executive action, has an outsized negative effect on people in poverty.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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