Christian group urges panel to help poor, needy

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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A half-dozen concerned citizens huddled in the rain Wednesday on the porch of Marshall House, the Vancouver office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, to show support for federal spending on behalf of the poor and vulnerable worldwide.

They called on Murray, the Democratic co-chairman of the congressional supercommittee, to protect funding for food stamps and other nutritional programs, federal tax credits for the working poor, and international programs that provide immunization and disaster aid.

The 12-member bipartisan supercommittee faces a Nov. 23 deadline for reaching agreement on $1.2 trillion in

cuts to federal spending. If it fails to do so, across-the-board cuts will be made in military and domestic spending under an agreement congressional leaders reached with the Obama administration in August to resolve the debt limit standoff.

“My fear is that they will have to go to some kind of across-the-board cuts” that slash spending for the most vulnerable, said George Pollard of Vancouver. “Unfortunately, the poor don’t have a lot of high-paid lobbyists.”

Vancouver’s churches have responded to the needs of a growing population of homeless and hungry people, said Kathy Lawrence of Vancouver’s Trinity Lutheran Church. “I think the churches are stepping up,” she said. “Now the government needs to do more.”

Vancouver’s small gathering was part of a one-day national movement by religious leaders organized under the banner of Bread for the World. The Washington, D.C.-based organization describes itself as “a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision-makers to end hunger at home and abroad.”

Lawrence, Wilbur Wood of West Hills Friends and Donna Van Horn, co-pastor of The Bridge in Portland, were among church-affiliated activists who showed up at Murray’s office for the quiet observance.

Van Horn said it’s important to protect international humanitarian aid in the budget. “I don’t think good will has borders,” she said. “To be a nation that says, ‘We care,’ we have to stand up and not make cuts on the back of those who are the most vulnerable, the poor and the hungry.”

Larger events were held Wednesday in Seattle, Tacoma and New York City, at which participants recited a litany that declared, “We pray for a just and compassionate budget” that protects women, children, elders and the unemployed.

At the Seattle event, travel writer Rick Steves said the threat of deep cuts to human services speaks volumes about the nation’s moral values.

“I believe that the mark of a civilized society is how it cares for its needy, its homeless and its hungry,” he said. “I also believe that there’s enough wealth in our society to foster culture, steward our environment and strive for the ideal that all of our children — regardless of the economic class of their parents — are equally entitled to quality education and health care.”

Steves added, “I believe that while we are a compassionate and caring people, a false austerity is being imposed upon all of us, and we do not need to accept it.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.