IN MARCH, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shared his excitement about block grants. “We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate,” Ryan said. “That’s never been done before!”
Ryan’s enthusiasm should be alarming, not exciting, for Christians. The block grant model is a dangerously ineffective way to protect people when they are economically vulnerable.
What’s a block grant and what’s it good for? A block grant is a fixed amount of unrestricted funding made by the federal government to a state. Traditionally, block grants have been used for law enforcement, school systems, and public transportation, allowing states more flexibility in administering programs as well as the ability to experiment.
Generally, block grants have not been used for entitlement programs, which include Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income, among other programs. Why? Because doing so cuts gaping holes into the safety net that these programs offer those who are struggling, and because “experimenting” with people when they are sick, poor, disabled, or elderly is abhorrent. Scripture is unequivocal on this: We are to honor our elders and care for the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers—the most vulnerable among us.
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“The poor will always be with you,” Jesus once said, and for centuries his followers have struggled to understand what he meant.
Or maybe not.
“The poor will always be with you” — especially if you’re not poor — seems straightforward enough: Look around, people ! The poor (and their problems) are very much with us!
Viewed through this kind of realpolitik lens, this verse (and the Bible generally) pose no real interpretive challenges to our reading or our living. The world, regrettably, is simply thus. The poor, alas, will always be with us.
More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.
Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.
The first few nights weren't so bad. It was on the fourth night, the night it rained, that it got to me. I had just spent the past week sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the Illinois state Capitol building in Springfield. Throughout the week, young people of faith, college students, as well as homeless and formerly homeless youth traveled from Chicago to Springfield. Some slept on the sidewalks at night, and others came solely to lobby their legislators. We were all there for the same reason -- because each year nearly 25,000 youth experience homelessness in the state of Illinois. Not only were there not the resources to help these youth, but most legislators and most of the general public didn't even realize the problem existed.
In the past few weeks, I've written about a lot of full-page ads. This full-page ad is different. Too often, homeless youth have been invisible. The Ali Forney Center, a service provider for LGBT homeless youth, has a full-page ad in this month's issue of Sojourners magazine. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation, connected the Ali Forney Center to Sojourners, as a part of an advertising campaign the Ali Forney Center is running. The ad highlights that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I have talked with many teens who became homeless because they were kicked out of their homes or ran away from abuse by their parents because of their sexual identity. After their homes became dangerous, they went to the streets, where many were attacked and some were trafficked or forced into prostitution.
Since early this spring, Sojourners, with your invaluable help, has strongly advocated with the president and Congress, asking for a responsible plan to reduce our nation's deficit -- a plan that protects the poorest and most vulnerable. We have asked, "What Would Jesus Cut?" We have prayed and fasted, and now thousands of you have signed on to the Circle of Protection: a statement on why we need to protect programs for the poor.