National focus on terrorism doesn't mean
that other pressing needs have disappeared
By Tony Staley
Three months ago, the Catholic community was pushing Congress hard to pass certain bills. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress, like the rest of the nation, has focused almost exclusively on national defense and rooting out terrorism.
Left on the sidelines, for example, was "conscience clause" legislation, sought by the Catholic Health Association. It would permit Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform abortions or other morally objectionable medical procedures with no risk to funding.
The association also wants better Medicaid and Medicare funding for hospitals and initiatives to train and keep nurses and other health professionals in the workforce.
Although the association continues to push these measures, the chances of success remain unclear, particularly since Congress will probably not debate such legislation until well into 2002 -- if at all.
Nor is the Catholic Health Association the only one seeking legislative action.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wants the law that created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families reauthorized. That law is becoming a growing concern because of the downturn in the economy that's bound to affect former welfare recipients who are almost guaranteed to lose their jobs under the traditional pattern of "last hired, first fired."
As Nancy Wisdo, head of the U.S. bishops' Office of Domestic Social Development, told Catholic News Service: "We were focusing our concern on the people who were still on welfare, the so-called hard-to-employ. Now, if something happens to the economy and the people who got off welfare are let go from their jobs, then the welfare reform package is going to look much more different" as newly laid-off workers grow closer to exhausting their "lifetime" supply of welfare benefits.
Indeed during the debate over welfare reform, many advocacy groups warned that allowances must be made for economic downturns that force people willing to work out of their jobs.
Other ideas that have fallen on hard times are Pres. Bush's faith-based initiative, a minimum wage increase, accessible and affordable health care for the uninsured, an education bill that would let students at Catholic schools participate more fully and equitably in federally funded education initiatives, immigration and refugee bills, and increases in foreign aid, including development and health aid for Africa, especially HIV/AIDS.
The war on terrorism may benefit farmers, said Holy Cross Br. David Andrews, head of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. Even before the attacks, he urged Congress to go slow on passage of a new farm bill in hopes that would lead to a better bill.
As Wisdo says, these issues are going to have to be dealt with eventually. Sadly, we've yet to end the problems of poverty.