The clock may be ticking on the Bush White House, but a group of religious leaders claims it’s not too late for George W. Bush to redeem what they call his ‘shameful’ legacy. Last month, the leader of Catholic Charities USA, the Reverend Larry Snyder, joined other Catholic and evangelical Christian social justice advocates in urging the President to right the wrongs of his administration. Catholic Charities USA, is the national membership association of more than 1,500 Catholic agencies and institutions that serve approximately 7.5 million people a year. Fr. Snyder oversees the organization’s Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, a multi-year, multi-faceted initiative that aims to cut poverty in half by 2020. BustedHalo.com® recently spoke with Father Snyder about the changes he’d like to see, the challenges for the country’s next president and his hope for young Americans.
BustedHalo®: In what ways has the Bush administration failed the American people?
Larry Snyder: We start with the basic assumption that as people of faith, we measure any society by how it treats the least among us. This belief is rooted in the Old Testament with the prophets. We live up to our covenant with God by being kind to the widows, orphans and strangers in our midst. In the New Testament, there’s the story of The Good Samaritan. It’s a very core part of our belief.
The reason we find President Bush’s tenure troubling is, think of the number of people who live in poverty now, or those who don’t have health insurance. The safety net is fraying rather than strengthening. We, the leaders of Catholic Charities, Institute of Sisters of Mercy, Evangelicals for Human Rights, Evangelicals for Social Action and National Association of Evangelicals, held a press conference in an attempt to let the President know that it’s not too late to make some of this right. For example, we’re calling for expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Under its current state, only about six million children would be covered. But there are nine million children in this country without insurance. The President has actually vetoed efforts to expand it at least twice. We ask that he not use children and their health care as a pawn in the political process. Another way the administration has failed the poor is with the food stamp program. It was reauthorized, but in many ways, it’s more difficult for people to access. For example, there are limits imposed on legal immigrants: They can’t access food stamps for five years. These are legal residents—they’re highly-motivated people who’ve come here to make America their home, and yet those are the kinds of qualifications that get put on programs. It’s just punitive, these kinds of interpretations that this administration puts on programs already in place. It’s like kicking people when they’re down.
It’s not all bad news. We need to be fair with the President. We feel he was right on with the comprehensive immigration reform movement—he supported that, how it should be an earned path of citizenship. We’re disappointed that it’s not going to be part of his legacy but it could have been.
BH: Your group also criticized the administration’s foreign policy.
While I commend his work with disease in Africa, our overall reputation in the international community has been tarnished. I belong to Caritas International, an international group of 162 Catholic social service agencies headquartered in Rome. During a recent meeting, some of the members said that while they appreciate the aid given to their countries by the United States, they frequently don’t like the political strings that are attached.
BH: Is it unfair to blame one man for all these problems?
LS: There is an attitude that this administration has brought: the lone ranger approach. It’s an approach that says we’re out there and we’re going to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, often without considering what the ramifications are. There’s a lot of cultural stuff that goes on with international dealings, and it’s not an easy thing to have all these cultures working together. With this administration, I’m not sure a lot has gone into respecting the differences. It seems to think that America has this God-given leadership role.
BH: You’re convinced that it’s not too late for President Bush to mend what’s been broken?
LS: Yes. He can still get on board with SCHIP. If he were to come around and say, this is something that can impact the lives of nine million American children, then we can do something about it. Just recently, when he presented his economic stimulus plan, it did not benefit seniors and some veterans. Again, if you think about who are the neediest among us, who’s most affected, it’s the poor. Let’s take a look at how can we impact their lives. Those are the kinds of things this administration should consider, and make a difference in its final year.
BH: What are the challenges for the next president?
LS: The economy will be a huge challenge—it’s something that impacts all Americans. Whoever it is, he or she will have to address that. I’m also concerned that while Americans are generous by nature, if and when we hit a recession, that kind of money that they’ve been able to direct to the poor won’t be coming in. At the same time, you have to acknowledge the 36 million people who are living in poverty—that’s about 12 percent of our population. That is not acceptable. These people need health insurance, housing, nutrition, education or training and economic security. The more troubling statistic is that about 25 percent of citizens in this country own no assets—no savings, no home, no car—and they’re one or two paychecks away from being in poverty. Those are the kinds of things the next president has to worry about. How do we shore up the safety net? And how do we reduce poverty? I invite everyone to join our efforts at Catholic Charities and endorse the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America by visiting our website.
BH: The pundits are convinced that young adults could be the key demographic that determines the outcome of the election. While that remains to be seen, we know that the candidates are working hard to attract younger voters. What should young Americans be demanding of these candidates when it comes to fixing what’s wrong with America?
LS: The young people of this country have two things working for them. They tend to be idealistic, and work for what’s best for them—that’s terrific. They’re also full of energy and highly motivated. Together, that’s a great combination. They need to listen to the candidates, as well as make sure the candidates know that they want to live in a society where there isn’t a divide between those who have and have-not, and there is no built-in fear between groups of people.
Another thing that sets this generation apart is that previous generations have had a loyalty to a brand. Young people these days are much more loyal to a cause. Before, as Catholics, we can always draw upon others who are Catholic. Now, those labels don’t apply. The religion doesn’t matter. Whoever is doing to most good, that’s who young Americans go with. That’s why here at Catholic Charities, it’s up to us to make a case for attracting young adults to our cause.
Visit www.catholiccharitiesusa.org for more information.