I recently spent a day in our nation’s capital, a place that is seen by many as the most inspiring few acres in our land with its monuments and memorials, and by others as a swamp ripe for draining.
In this time of raised voices and rabid rhetoric, I want to make sure that voices too often ignored are heard — those of the poor and the marginalized, those of people in need or in crisis around the world.
I went to Capitol Hill to support additional funding for international humanitarian relief and recovery programs. The Obama administration has requested these Overseas Contingency Operations funds, as they are called. I wanted to make sure that they did not get lost in all that is going on in this busy time in Washington, as Congress struggles with last-minute budget decisions.
The United States has been a steadfast supporter of people in need, and we can again make a difference in the lives of men, women and children who want — not unlike us here in the U.S. — to lead normal and prosperous lives with their families. Some of the funding would support the thousands of people displaced from their homes in the fight against ISIS in Iraq, for example.
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With foreign assistance making up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, we can address these needs abroad without sacrificing interests here. My faith brought me to Washington; my firm belief that the rich — both people and nations — have an obligation to help the poor.
I came in my capacity as director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, joined by directors from several other states. We visited Congressional offices – both in the Senate and House – that decide on the budget, including our own Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as Rep. Hal Rogers.
The overseas humanitarian organization of our church, Catholic Relief Services, is helping in Iraq — and many other countries where people are suffering from natural or man-made disasters — on our behalf, touching the lives of millions of people who have been forced from their homes. We were speaking to our congressional leaders in support of CRS’ important work, made possible by the generous support of Americans.
Beyond this specific funding request, we hope that our words carried a longer-lasting message about the importance of this kind of international assistance. It does not cost much and the returns are huge — in saved lives, in better lives, in health, in dignity, as well as in goodwill.
Look at the statistics. Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half. A child born today is more than twice as likely to live into adolescence. Maternal mortality is down. Education and literacy are up.
All of these gains provide the foundation on which good, successful economies and political systems are built. Such nations breed peace, not terrorism. And the work of organizations like CRS has played a big part in that.
For generations now, this kind of international assistance has received bipartisan support. Both Republicans and Democrats have understood that it is the right thing to do for many reasons — moral, political and economic.
That must continue. In November, most of us cast our ballot for the candidates we felt would bring us a better life, who expressed our values and who would lead our nation into a better future.
That is exactly what CRS and I are trying to ensure for millions of people around the world — whether they have fled violence in Iraq or seen a hurricane in Haiti destroy their house. Join us by telling McConnell and your congressional representative that the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund should be approved.
We must all hear the voices of the poor, speaking in many languages, as an antidote to the divisive rhetoric that too often dominates our political debate.
Jason D. Hall is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public-policy voice of the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops.