While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has attacked President Obama’s new mandate that religious institutions pay for their workers’ contraception, the group also has pushed more quietly for a Democratic proposal to extend the unemployment insurance benefits.
The Rev. Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the bishop’s Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, has told lawmakers that extending an expiring unemployment benefits package for the long-term jobless is “a moral obligation to help protect the life and dignity of unemployed workers and their families.”
“On behalf of the Catholic bishops, I urge you to extend emergency unemployment insurance in order that jobless workers and their families, who have suffered greatly in this economic downturn, can have a basic level of financial security as they seek stable, full-time employment,” Father Blaire in a letter last week to Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, and Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat – the lead negotiators on a congressional committee considering the issue.
The 20 members of the bipartisan and bicameral panel, which has met for several weeks to hammer out an extension of the payroll-tax cut holiday, generally has agreed to include an unemployment benefits extension in the package, though the parties differ on its size.
Democrats for months had pushed for a continuation of the current deal, which provides up to 99 weeks of combined state and federal benefits. Senate Democrats last week proposed a 93-week package, while President Obama’s 2013 budget released Monday seeks a 79-week cap.
But Republicans instead have pressed to drop the jobless benefits limit to 59 weeks, putting them at odds with the Catholic bishops despite strongly supporting the bishops’ denunciation of the president’s birth control mandate as an assault on religious freedom.
“The median length of joblessness is still 10 months, and economists estimate that there are over four job seekers for every opening,” Father Blaire wrote. “The economy is still leaving too many people without work.”
“I would … caution against changing the unemployment insurance system in ways that could harm vulnerable workers.”
Father Blaire also wrote “to express deep concern” and “strong opposition” to proposals to alter the Child Tax Credit to exclude children of immigrant families.
“Proposals to deny the credit to children of working poor immigrant families — the large majority of whom are American citizens — would hurt vulnerable kids, increase poverty, and would not advance the common good,” he said. “To exclude these children who are American citizens from the Child Tax Credit is unjust and wrong.”
On issues of social spending and anti-poverty efforts, the Catholic Church has been closer to the Democratic party than the Republicans for decades and first called for a universal health-care system in the U.S. almost a century ago.