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Economic downturns can bring spiritual upturns

Different developments in the economic downturn stir different expectations and volley us back and forth between hope and despair.

Catholic Charities faced cutting the overnight shelter at the House of Charity for people on the streets this summer, but its directors made other cuts and found support in the willingness of its directors to voluntarily accept a 10 percent salary cut. 

They understand and care, because the people who suffer are not statistics, but people they know.

With private donations down and with city, state and county money going away, Rob McCann, executive director, said that the charity is tightening its belt by freezing hiring and expenses, and by canceling staff raises and travel, which are painful.

“Each program is looking at how it can provide the services in different ways to save money, because the need for the services is going up,” he said.

Several nonprofits have reported declining revenues, but several also expect to hold their own.  Regional camps were optimistic despite low registration numbers early in the season.  People and congregations providing camp scholarships assure that camp numbers will not slip too far.

The state legislature’s decision to opt for cuts in health care, education and human services as the state faced a $9 billion shortfall disappointed faith community advocates, including Paul Benz with the Lutheran Public Policy Office, Alice Woldt of the Washington Association of Churches, and Scott Cooper of Parish Social Services with Catholic Charities.

They believe the state eventually needs to find new revenue sources.  Cutting programs and services just transfers the pain and eventually costs more, said Paul.  He points out that cuts to the Basic Health Plan by 50 percent will mean more emergency room visits and more costs.

While Scott said the legislature blunted the worst imaginable outcomes, the faith community had advocated for decades to establish and keep programs to protect the most vulnerable people in the state.  Once they are voted off the budget it means triple the efforts to reinstate them.  “The programs are about real people with real stories,” he said. 

It doesn’t seem to matter to some that the state tax structure is outdated, leaving the poorest paying the greatest portion of their income in taxes, Alice said.  According to a recent study, the low-income folks pay a greater percent of their income to charity.

Poor, vulnerable, oppressed, suffering people understand what it is to have little, to be on the edge.  Many are willing to share, even sacrifice, while those who have the most blessings too often share less.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” Paul offered as a challenge from the faith community:  “The question is what is in our self interest.  Is it distrust of government or trust of government as a provider of services that benefits everyone?  What kind of state do we want to live in:  One that helps people be more self sufficient or one that keeps people in poverty?  Do we want a state where people live healthy lives, are well educated and have a thriving economy?” he challenged.

It’s always a blessing to share stories of people who take their faith seriously, living scriptural principles to make life better for people they know and don’t know.  We celebrate the connection of U.S. and Mexican farmers and orchardists’ awareness that their business thrives when they care about the housing, health, children, education, opportunities and wellbeing of their employees.  How refreshing it is to hear!

Often in this economic downturn, we know of personal and corporate downturns in human caring. 

Just as often, or more often, we hope, we hear the stories of people persevering through struggles, learning they can live on less, and discovering that less is more.

Mary Stamp - Editor