Catholic Charities USA along with its local affiliates are most likely the largest organized charitable arm of the Catholic Church. I use the qualifier “organized” on purpose, since the vast majority of charitable work is done each day by individuals in the midst of their everyday lives, often inspired and motivated by the Faith.
So how ought “organized” charity occur in the United States, or any civic community for that matter? For the Church, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are the guideposts. On this point, CatholicCulture.org featured an excellent article last week explaining how solidarity and subsidiarity can never be separated.
Given these principles, today’s statement by Catholic Charities USA in response to President Obama’s new budget proposal got my attention. The statement by Rev. Larry Snyder rightly emphasizes the need to rethink the entire financing and delivery of social services — beginning with the streamlining of government bureaucracies.
…now is the time to work together to create a new national approach to service delivery models that is market driven, results oriented and locally controlled, enabling the country to permanently make a difference in the lives of those living in poverty that have for years been trapped in the same safety net that was originally intended to save them. We can no longer continue to push the same challenges we have been neglecting to address for years onto the next generation of Americans. To that extent, today we ask President Obama and the members of Congress to join us in a critical conversation to identify long term solutions to the entrenched problems facing our country and its many local communities. But until that conversation takes place, and government takes the steps necessary to reform its service delivery systems, we will continue to fight to ensure that those in need are not affected disproportionately by cuts to critical services.
The statement itself seems to be saying two things. First, the current model of financing and delivery is unworkable, filled with red tape, and hurting those who need our help. They call on the President and Congress to avoid drastic cuts when often what is needed is less bureaucracy. The statement admits:
…as much as forty cents of every dollar allocated to existing federal initiatives that provide greatly needed assistance to Americans who continue to struggle through this economic recovery are lost in the bureaucratic red tape associated with those programs.
Second, the statement seems to imply that a much broader and comprehensive look at the social welfare system needs examining. I am inclined to argue, and the statement seems to at least suggest, that in many cases the federal government is ill suited to manage the financing and delivery of many social services in the first place, particularly when local, competing, market based programs often offer less expensive and more responsive alternatives.
So why is this happening now? It certainly seems true that the convergence of unsustainable deficits, voter backlash, and the increasing number of moral dilemas placed on faith-based charities by our government-first model of has spurred the conversation. The number of grants and funds available in the past will inevitably shrink, while the grants that remain seem increasingly likely to include morally unacceptable demands.
Whatever the reason, the reform of our social welfare system will be a big part of the coming budget and tax battles. Catholic Charities USA deserves praise for encouraging our leaders to think comprehensively about the challenges ahead.