Bishops and Allies Ask Senator to Protect “The Least Of These.”

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Three West Virginia bishops are pressing the state’s politicians to protect poor and working families during the big budget fight in Washington. At a meeting scheduled this morning with Sen. Joe Manchin, the Methodist, Catholic and Lutheran bishops will be joined by advocates and ordinary families.

Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, says the working poor do not have a lot of Washington lobbying muscle. Programs that help them often face the ax, he adds.

“One thing we know from experience is that cuts hit kids most. It is absolutely possible to balance the budget without hurting the most vulnerable.”

The budget and tax negotiations are complex and important. They’re driven in large part by the expiring Bush tax cuts and steep across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in if Congress does not act. In this context, Laura Allen, director of communications for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, says the message of the Gospels could hardly be any clearer.

“Jesus gave. He spoke very openly about the need to care for the poorest. He did not turn people away. Our priority will always be the poor, those who are ‘the least of these.’”

As an example of what should be defended, Smith cites the earned income tax credit. He says to get it, someone has to have some income, but not very much. Smith says it has proven to be an effective way to help the working poor keep their heads above water.

“What it does is allow working families to be able to make enough to actually live and take care of their kids. So it’s the difference between a family keeping a job or going on welfare.”

Congressional Republicans have been demanding deep spending cuts in programs, including Medicaid and Social Security. They’ve also defended tax cuts for the wealthy. A number of religious figures say those priorities are backwards.

The bishops’ meeting with Manchin starts at 9:30 a.m. today at the John XXIII Pastoral Center, 100 Hodges Rd., Charleston.

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