Catholic Bishops: Congress Has a ‘Moral Obligation’ to Protect the ‘Life & Dignity’ of the Unemployed

A new letter that was released on Tuesday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on Congress to extend unemployment insurance, while seemingly claiming that such protection falls under the “right to life and subsistence.”

The letter, which was sent through Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the Conference’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, says that it is Congress’s “moral obligation” to protect the “life and dignity” of the unemployed. In a press release, the USCCB writes:

Bishop Blaire wrote that the current “pervasive economic pain” includes a median length of joblessness of 10 months, and over four job seekers for every opening. He wrote that Pope John Paul II called such conditions in “a real social disaster” and that the pope said the “obligation to provide unemployment benefits” to workers and their families is a fundamental principle of “the right to life and subsistence.”

Below, you can see the full letter, written by Blair:

The timing of the letter, as Commonwealth notes, is going to make it that much more contentious. House Republicans are hesitant to extend unemployment benefits, as some feel that doing to encourages people not to go out and look for employment.

A current measure under consideration that was introduced by House GOP leaders last week would reduce unemployment eligibility from 99 weeks to 59 weeks.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.)

The Hill has more regarding how some Democrats are reacting to the proposal:

At a procedural committee hearing on Monday night, Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) warned his GOP colleagues that Democrats were furious about provisions in the must-pass measure to extend the current payroll tax rate holiday and extend and reform unemployment benefits.

“We’re headed for a confrontation on the Floor tomorrow,” Levin said in response to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp’s (R-Mich.) statement on the 369-page bill up for consideration.

The veteran lawmaker pulled no punches in a preview of Tuesday’s 90-minute floor debate, calling the provisions related to phasing back the current 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits a “heartless, and I think mindless and reckless way to proceed.”

This most recent letter from the Bishops follows a back and forth between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a Catholic, and the Bishops back in May. Paul had apparently written a letter to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan expressing his desire to provide facts about his budget to the faith leader (his note was in allegedly in response to a previous critique from Bishop Blaire). “We believe human dignity is undermined when citizens become passive clients living on redistributions from government bureaucracies,” Ryan wrote.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)

Dolan’s response to Ryan didn’t take an official stance on the House budget. “A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burdens upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people,” Dolan wrote.

(H/T: Commonwealth)