ISNA and Interfaith Leaders Tell Congress: “Don’t Push the Poor and Vulnerable Off the Fiscal Cliff”

Last week, the Islamic Society of North America joined other national and state religious leaders to deliver this message to Congress: “Don’t push the poor and vulnerable off the ‘fiscal cliff.'”  The “fiscal cliff” is the term used to describe what will happen at the beginning of the new year, when many budget policies go into effect.  The President and both parties in Congress are currently engaged in a fierce debate, as they struggle to come to an agreement on many federal budget issues before this end-of-year deadline.  In this situation, it is the obligation of religious communities to ensure that no decision does harm to those who are poor and vulnerable in our society. Last Thursday, ISNA National Director Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed joined prominent Jewish and Christian leaders to call on the Obama Administration and Congress to think carefully about the manner in which their budget decisions will affect those living in poverty in the United States and abroad.  Those who are poor and vulnerable in our society did the least to create the country’s deficit problems, but may suffer the most because of it, losing access to vital programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care the elderly and impoverished in our society. ISNA and others in the faith community are working through a number of national campaigns to raise the moral principle of protecting the poor and vulnerable in all federal budget debates, and to “speak the truth” to lawmakers, calling on them to prevent budget negotiators from continuing to protect the nation’s wealthiest while making deep cuts to programs that support vulnerable families here and abroad.  They warned that budget cuts to International Development, Disaster Assistance and Food Aid programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, Head Start, and other initiatives will push more people into poverty. The leaders met with several members of Congress and their staff to advocate for a plan that would prevent this kind of tragedy.  ISNA Director of Community Outreach Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi joined other faith leaders from the same coalition to meet with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was very supportive of their effort. On November 20, ISNA joined an interfaith coalition in sending a letter to members of Congress on the issue, urging Congress to ensure that any deficit reduction agreement not increase poverty or inequality.  Specifically, they called on Congress to exempt all non-health, low-income entitlement programs from cuts and any automatic enforcement, as they have done for the past 25 years; protect poor children and families, low-income seniors, and disabled Americans in any savings from Medicaid and Medicare; include explicit protections for SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit, protect the lowest 20% of households from higher taxes; and raise sufficient new revenues to stabilize our debt. “When we hear so much about the ‘fiscal cliff,’ we are disturbed to learn that its potentially harmful effects could fall on the poor, the hungry, and those who are marginalized already,” Dr. Syeed said after last week’s press conference. “Our goal today was to prevent this scenario, and the strength of our gathering was the diversity of denominations speaking with one voice.”