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Bishops give stimulus plan mixed reviews

Bailout praised for helping vulnerable, criticized for Hyde amendment omission

WASHINGTON — The American Rescue Plan is “an extraordinarily practical way to help the American people,” New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said in a statement March 11, the same day President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law.

“People have the right to expect that their money, in the form of tax dollars, be used to help them during a period of extreme financial strain,” the cardinal said.

“As a pastor I can testify firsthand about the difficulties of our people this past year caused by this terrible pandemic,” Cardinal Dolan said, “as they struggle to pay their rent, to buy groceries, to keep the lights and the heat going, purchase medicine, pay even the modest tuition to attend one of our excellent Catholic schools.”

The cardinal also said he shared “the same somber concern” expressed March 10 by Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the chairmen of six USCCB committees about the relief plan being passed in Congress with no Hyde Amendment language preventing taxpayers’ money from being used to pay for abortion.

“This bill, meant to enhance and protect human life, will also make it possible for the destruction of human life through the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortions by the omission of the long-standing, bipartisan policy to prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding abortions domestically and internationally,” Cardinal Dolan said. “May future relief efforts include this commonsense measure to protect life, not end it.”

Archbishop Gomez and the six chairmen in a joint statement March 10 praised “positive provisions” in the bill that “will save people from extremely desperate situations and will likely save lives.”

But they called it “unconscionable” that Congress passed it “without critical protections needed to ensure that billions of taxpayer dollars are used for life-affirming health care and not for abortion.” All of the previous pandemic relief bills included Hyde Amendment language.

This was needed in the American Rescue Plan because it “includes many general references to health care that, absent the express exclusion of abortion, have consistently been interpreted by federal courts not only to allow, but to compel, the provision of abortion without meaningful limit,” said the USCCB president and the chairs of the USCCB’s pro-life, domestic policy, international policy, education and migration committees and its Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

Hyde outlaws federal tax dollars from directly funding abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.

In other reaction to the American Rescue Plan, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said it “provides important and necessary relief to those who continue to suffer as a result of this pandemic.”

“While no piece of legislation contains everything one might wish, this COVID-19 relief legislation provides critical public funds to families struggling with unemployment, food insecurity and the threat of homelessness,” she said in a March 10 statement.

“Private charities and philanthropies cannot do it alone,” she said. “Catholic Charities USA remains committed to working with Congress and the administration to ensure that vulnerable persons and families find the care and support they need during these difficult times.”

CCUSA was among those who had urged lawmakers to include Hyde Amendment language in the bill as it made its way through the House and Senate.

>> Some provisions in the American Rescue Plan

• $17 billion for COVID-19 vaccine-related activities and programs, including vaccine development and distribution and and other therapeutics

• $110 billion to contain the pandemic, with testing and tracing efforts, public health programs and the Disaster Relief Fund.

• $130 billion for aid to public schools

• Direct payments of up to $1,400 for eligible individuals and up to $2,800 for eligible married couples, plus an additional $1,400 per eligible dependent, with no cap on the number of dependents that can be claimed. Also for eligible parents, the bill temporarily expands the child tax credit and raises the child and dependent care tax credit.

• $350 billion to U.S. territories, states and local and tribal governments

• $245.8 billion in emergency unemployment programs, which includes extending federal employment benefits by $300 a week through Sept. 6.

• $135 million funding to support organizations and jobs in the arts sector

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