Sister Simone Defends the Safety Net

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Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice lobbying organization NETWORK — and a leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” tours — testified before Congress yesterday at a hearing on poverty in America.

The hearing, “The War on Poverty: A Progress Report,” was organized by the House of Representatives Committee on the Budget, headed by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI). In his opening remarks, Ryan laid out his reasons for calling the hearing. “Forty-nine years ago, Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty,” he said. “Well, since then, we’ve spent $15 trillion on that war. So what do we have to show for it? Today, 46 million Americans are living in poverty. [...]The fact is, we’re losing this War on Poverty, and we need to know why.”

On trial in the hearing was the effectiveness of social safety net programs, which Ryan described as redundant, layered upon one another like a “sedimentary rock,” and often unnecessary. “Some programs displace the efforts of local communities to help families in need,” he said. “Government should not displace these efforts, it should support them.”

As the leader of an organization that for 41 years has endeavored to help the working poor, Sister Campbell represented one such non-governmental organization. But the government programs, she said, were indispensable in her work.

“The Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure and my daily experiences tell us that every day in America, supports such as the EITC, SNAP and Medicaid are making critical differences in the lives of low-income families, particularly children,” she testified. “The safety net does lift millions of people out of poverty — in fact, in 2011, government benefits lifted a total of 40 million people out of poverty.”

Watch her full testimony, here:

Campbell came under fire from some conservatives, including Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), who joked that he was excited to challenge a nun after years of Catholic school. He demanded, “What is the church doing wrong that they have to come to the government to get so much help?”

Campbell replied, “Justice comes before charity… Everyone has a right to eat, and therefore there is a governmental responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat. Love and care makes a difference, but the issues are so big there isn’t sufficient charitable dollars there.”

For more on Sister Simone’s thoughts on poverty, watch her interview with Bill on Moyers & Company from last year.

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  • Matt Meskill

    If more “religious” people were like her the world would be a much better place.

  • Anonymous

    If someone wants to give to the poor and wants 95 cents on the dollar to go to the poor and not to CEOs, then give to Catholic Charities. Other charities, after CEOs and fund raisers, give as little as, even less than, 20 cents on the dollar collected for the poor, to the poor.
    Ryan is the parasite, not the poor. When he says that he does not want “big government” it means that he wants” big corporations” instead, dumping cash into his pockets as he sells his votes to the highest bidders.
    So are we to keep funding wars? Do we watch children go hungry? Has it come down to “guns or butter” and do guns put more money in Ryan’s pockets than butter?
    Children who do not eat well, have brains that do not develop properly, fail in school, and continue the cycle of poverty.
    Ryan has a serious case of disconnect from the poor, from the Catholic Church, from humanity.
    These nuns are phenomenal Christians following Jesus’ lead..

  • Arianna

    My family was a part of the “War on Poverty”, helping start food banks, gleaning in fields, knocking on doors to pick citrus from yards. Later in life, each and every one of us, except my mother, has been on foodstamps or receiving some sort of food aid or other social aid. If we look back to the “1000 points of Light” that was supposed to kick the burden of poverty, hunger and homelessness to the “private sector and charities” what do we see? Crippled organizations, rich corporations and, oh my, that was President George Bush the I’s idea!

  • Charles H. Meyer

    No Matt, if more perople were religious the world would be a better place. I work with low income families and 90 percent of the families seeking our help do not even have a familiy religion or do they go to church anytime. Strength and hope comes from God. When you abandon God you set yourself adrift and your life becomes senseless with no direction. We cannot carry the burden of life without the help of our Lord.

  • nancy morris

    To answer Paul Ryan, ask the Republicans.

  • Jason

    That’s an incredibly insulting statement. Religion doesn’t create morality/ethics, which should be obvious given the state of religious discourse in the world. If more people in the world were religious, given a historical context, we would certainly not be guaranteed a more peaceful world. It’s no surprise that the politicians most opposed to helping the poor are the ones who most vocally define themselves as “Christian”.

  • Judy Pedgrift

    Jason, thank you for your reply to Charles. I am so tired of the Charles’ of the world. I do not need some magical “male” figure in the sky to carry my burdens. I was born white and middle class in America, so what I have going for me, is luck, and now Social Security and Medicare.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps having a Congress that makes it easy for corporations to move their manufacturing to communist China is one reason that we have so much poverty in the U.S. Ryan should look in the mirror for his answer. And, when Congress made it illegal for the CFTC to regulate financial derivatives in the 90′s, they legalized fraud, bring us the financial crisis and subsequent poverty. Do you really need another round table to see the obvious?

  • NotARedneck

    Government decisions and policies either create wealth or wealthy. RepubliCON decisions, especially since Reagan became president have favored decisions that created a wealthy over class at the expense of the middle class and poor.

    To create wealthy, you give tax breaks to speculators and those selling off the assets of the country for personal enrichment. This is the economic story since the 1980s.

    In the Depression, most politicians looked at the 1920s, an era with many extremely wealthy individuals and little general wealth and realized that only real investment would change this. Tax policies for the next few decades encouraged real investment. Speculation, financial manipulation and tax evasion became a minor part of the US economy. The economy doubled and doubled again and nearly all benefited.

    Since Reagan got in, the benefits have accrued to those who like Reagan, who didn’t make real investments and create wealth but those who owned things like land, financial instruments (often with a fraudulent angle aimed primarily at the poor and middle class) and resources. Since holding such assets became very profitable, real investments were not made and even worse, existing real investments were not maintained or upgraded and were often stripped to find more money to play the speculative games.

    First the working class saw their well being drop, requiring more labour (second jobs and more women in the work force) to earn nearly as much. Then, they were forced to borrow a lot to keep up. Now, it has become so bad that a significant portion of Americans cannot even feed themselves.

    Throughout this economic calamity, the right wing criminal trash have blamed everything that they could to “explain” why this was happening. There isn’t a shred of truth in ANYTHING that they say.

    BTW, such types ARE NOT “conservatives”. Conservatives believe in real investment and the right wing criminal trash are only interested in speculative gain without paying taxes. Taxes are the enemy of the speculators since they take money away from the speculative economy and slow the gains.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly.. there would be NO war on poverty if we were all more akin to sharing our wealth or creating an environment where everyone could earn monies they could purchase the 3′s for.. food, shelter, security for their own families.

  • Eastern Oregonian

    Mr. Ryan and others of his ideological thinking need to be aware that
    President Johnson helped many like myself who had no umbrella beneath….no charitable resources to help a single Mom of three…and a limited education. The policies he helped ram through Congress allowed me to get a college education while low income housing and a part time job helped feed my children. I then paid for the next 38 years state and federal taxes. We were able to join the middle class rather then be forced into something close to prostitution.

  • cyberpeg

    How about a living wage?

  • Sweet Sixteen~But Wicked Smart

    It’s about time.

  • Indymama

    Right to eat, yes, but NOT a “right” to sell their government-issued food credits for cash to buy drugs and alcohol, or to withdraw funds for gambling AT casinos! Working in the elementary schools, I see kids whose parents get Welfare and Food Credits WHO DO NOT GET FED! They come to school ravenously hungry and get breakfast and lunch, and now they’re handed backpacks of snacky-stuff for the weekend. The system is BROKEN if the money taxpayers pay is just a goody-bag for sick, stupid parents!

  • smorty

    Wow, you paid taxes like the rest of us that didn’t have your opportunity!?

  • Sandra Schwartz

    Amen to that! I deeply admire their courage and commitment to living their faith.

  • stephanie

    Because you have seen children looking hungry, you assume that the parents must be spending SNAP benefits on drugs, alcohol and/or gambling. I really hope you don’t teach logic. find another profession because you have no business working with children or the public.

  • Give Success

    ALso …since you see so many hungry kids and worry so much…how many did you take and feed or did you just look at them starve and take notes on what to complain about

    How many home visits did you make to make sure these poor kids were fed. How many times did you give the families w/o food a meal to eat. Oh i forgot thats not your job sry.

    I have not a pot to piss in myself and I go and help at the local food bank and soup kitchens at least 2x a week. I see people like you pull up in Lexus’ and RangeRovers to get a free meal where i volunteer. Is that ok? We serve them with the same smile and love as the poor..we dont judge bc maybe they REALLY are hungry too so we feed.

  • Sweet Sixteen~But Wicked Smart

    There are thousands of abused women out there who are abused daily and need a good divoce lawyer, Love is wonderful as long as it works, but when men stop co operating, it’s time to check out and get the alimony started.

  • Mary Specht

    And you are exactly the person we want to help – please do what you can do eliminate fraud and abuse which is rampant in this country.

  • Anonymous

    Ryan and the majority of Republicans are totally out of touch. The largest welfare recipients are large corporations which do not pay their fair share in taxes. Republican conservatism has deteriorated into increasing the wealth of the haves at the expense of the havenots.

  • Matt Meskill

    No Charles, there are plenty of religious people in the world but very few, I imagine like the good sister. I would suspect there were many, many religious people in that room that day. And please don’t insult me claiming my life is senseless or that I’m adrift. Did Jesus teach you to be that condescending? I’m carrying the burdens of life just fine.

  • Charles H. Meyer

    Matt I can only say, like the old adage, if the shoe fits wear it. But, if what I said offended you then you may want to think differently about your life.

  • Matt Meskill

    And the shoe that seems to fit you is the arrogant, self-righteous type.

  • Anonymous

    Did I miss her stance on birth control rights? How about abortion choice? Surely these are factors in world poverty and disease.
    Does she have to kowtow to her denomination’s official views against these?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I think old Lyndon was the most interesting and helpful president since Roosevelt. Pity he got into the Vietnam thing, but then that was partly JFK’s fault. Eisenhower did warn both about going into that mess.
    Still, Lyndon brought us both Medicare and various civil rights bills.