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Discussing Budget Morality

United Christian Parish hosts discussion on intersection of budgets and social services.

Sister Marge Clark, a nun who has traveled the United States discussing the place of social issues in public budgeting, speaks at the United Christian Parish in Reston Thursday, Oct. 25.

Sister Marge Clark, a nun who has traveled the United States discussing the place of social issues in public budgeting, speaks at the United Christian Parish in Reston Thursday, Oct. 25. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— The United Christian Parish in Reston hosted a forum featuring one of the “Nuns on the Bus” Thursday, Oct. 25 for a discussion on the intersection of morality and budgets: Sister Marge Clark, one of a group of nuns that have toured the U.S. meeting with elected officials and locals about morality and budgeting.

Clark is the author of the Faithful Budget, which is created by an inter-religious group that determines basic domestic human needs.

“Every year our group has done a reflection on budget, usually in January before the president comes out with his,” she said. “Last winter, we got together and said we need more than our annual reflection on the budget, there are a lot of specific, problematic issues, and we need to direct those to Congress.” Clark said the group goes about the budget in a better way than the methods used by Congress.

“As a starting point we ask what are unmet needs of this nation? What needs to be done, but can’t be done by individuals, families or local communities?” she said. “That’s what needs to be the starting point of a federal budget. Then we look at how do we get revenue to get there. But that’s not how budgets are done today. They get together, look at the previous budget, decide how much less or how much more in some areas.”

She cited the last two budgets passed by Congress as an example of poorly planned budgets, citing their cuts to numerous social services. She said it would be better to start from scratch than try to deal with the budgets that were passed.

“We would rather hit the ‘fiscal cliff,’ as they call it, than get a bad deal. And we got a bad deal in December 2010. It has done tremendous harm. We would be willing to allow everything to expire and start over,” she said. “That is not a good thing. We don’t want to lose the child tax credit, we don’t want to lose the [investment tax credit], we don’t want program cuts, we don’t want these things to happen. But a bad deal means all kinds of cuts to domestic programs, and changes to rules, regulations and structures of those programs.”

More than 100 people attended the event, and some said it gave them a new perspective on the way dollars are spent.

“It’s the finest of lines I think, to make something work by the numbers, but also make sure we’re taking care of people who need it,” said George Matthews of Reston. “It can get really political, but at the end of he day, if we want to boast that we’re the greatest nation on earth, which despite our issues, I think we are, then we have to make decisions about who needs to be taken care of.”

Taryn O’Brien of Reston said the issue is so nebulous, that she isn’t sure how it can be accomplished. “There are people who are getting help that genuinely have bad luck, and there but for the grace of God go all of us, but I think it’s a little unrealistic to think there aren’t people taking advantage of the system,” she said. “It’s difficult to fathom how those decisions can be made, and who we would choose to give that power, but it is nice that people are having the conversation. It gives me hope.”

According to 2011 Fairfax County data, 6.8 of the population, or 73,794 people are living below the poverty line. There are more than 25,000 children (9.7 percent) living in poverty, and more than 6,000 (5.5 percent) of people over 65 in poverty.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said that the County relies on the groups and organizations in communities to help determine needs.

“Our faith communities and nonprofits are some of our largest partners, in delivering and supporting services and partnering with us to add social services,” she said. “I consider those major assets for us.”