Faith leaders: state budget about human dignity, not just dollars and cents

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With today’s tax deadline, faith leaders across Minnesota are renewing the call on state lawmakers to take a balanced approach to solving the state’s budget deficit. They say such an approach must include raising revenue fairly through some increased taxes. Until now, the cuts-only approach has fallen largely along party lines, and Lutheran Bishop Peter Rogness, spokesman for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, says it’s time to set aside partisan politics, for the sake of Minnesota’s most vulnerable.

“There are good people in both parties that I think have a desire to step apart from the harsh partisan positioning, and simply find policies that work. I think all of us in the religious community say that’s the way any group of people are supposed to live together: to set aside individual positions and individual self-interests and find the common good.”

Rogness says faith leaders are deeply concerned that the impact of the current proposed budget cuts will increase poverty and further drive children, families, the elderly, and the disabled into crisis.

Steve Bresnahan, executive director of Catholic Charities in St. Cloud and also a member ofthe Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, is particularly concerned about the impact of cuts to rural people who already struggle to find help in areas where there are few resources. In recent years, his organization has seen a huge increase in demand for their emergency programs such as financial assistance, mental health counseling, foreclosure prevention, and for their food shelf.

“In talking with people, for many of them it is the loss of a job. We’ve had many people at our food shelf who have said, ‘You know, I used to donate food here, and now I am coming here asking for food.’ That’s got to be a horribly difficult thing to have to do.”

He said that long-term unemployment, or the long commutes to lower-paying jobs, even when they can get them, have dried up what little resources families have managed to save for emergencies.

Bresnahan gets frustrated with the persistent stereotypes, or what some refer to as the “demonizing” of the poor.

“That’s this idea that people choose it, that they’re not trying, that it’s a lifestyle they want to live, and that’s not true at all. Most folks are just trapped in some circumstances, and if we can just get them out of that, if we can get them over a couple of humps, many many people can get back on track.”

Bresnahan says it boils down to treating fellow Minnesotans with basic human dignity.

Lutheran Bishop Rogness agrees, and says that the state budget should be looked at in human terms, not just dollars and cents.

“The various faith traditions in this state have a remarkable convergence around the notion that the moral measure of a people, how faithfully we live our religious convictions, is to be measured in how we treat the poor and most vulnerable among us, and that we can do that together as a whole people in the state. So, in that sense, these budget decisions do become value-based decisions.”

The conference committee is meeting again today to continue reconciling House and Senate language on the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill.