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Religious Leaders Urge Congress to Protect the Poor in Deficit Reduction

Rabbi Saperstein: "It is simply not acceptable that deficit reduction might increase the burden on those struggling the most in our communities. It is intolerable that debt reduction should come on the backs of the poorest among us, that it increase poverty or inequality."

Contact: Sean Thibault or Raechel Banks
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WASHINGTON, D.C., November 29, 2012 -- Joining with religious leaders from across the country, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke to Members of Congress this morning, urging them to protect programs that serve those living in poverty. At a press conference before the meetings, Saperstein issued the following statement:

“We stand here at a peculiar moment in history. Our communities now face trials that are invisible to many of us but a moral test for all of us. In the words of my own tradition, "...If all the troubles of the world are assembled on one side and poverty is on the other, poverty would outweigh them all" (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 31:12).

If our prophets and sages lived today, surely they would be crying out in protest against a nation as wealthy as ours that allows children to go hungry and families to sleep on the streets. Surely they would cry out in moral outrage against a society that fails in making healing the sick, housing the homeless, and helping the poor out of poverty national priorities.

But we must do more than cry out. We come to the halls of Congress to defend from devastating cuts the very programs that lift our struggling brothers and sisters in need. Programs like SNAP, which will help feed one out of every two American children before they turn 21. Have we lost our capacity to be shocked? Then let me repeat: One out of every two children in America will depend on SNAP before they turn 21. Programs like unemployment insurance, which kept 3.4 million Americans above the poverty line last year. Programs like the child tax credit and school meals and the Earned Income Tax Credit that make it possible for struggling families to make it in the midst of fiscal trouble. Programs that are transforming - and yes, quite literally, saving lives.

Right now, Congress is confronting the long-term deficits that threaten to undermine our economy. Difficult choices must be made. But remember this: Every major bipartisan deficit reduction deal in the last 25 years exempted from cuts all non-health means-tested programs like the ones I just mentioned. It is simply not acceptable that deficit reduction might increase the burden on those struggling the most in our communities. It is intolerable that debt reduction should come on the backs of the poorest among us, or that it increase poverty or inequality.

In our diverse religious traditions, we share this urgent moral command for economic justice - to protect and uplift the poor and the weak, to welcome and treat the stranger as ourselves. Let us ensure that in this economically challenging time, no one is forced to make agonizing choices between feeding their families and paying their heating bills, between paying for a vitally needed prescription for a child or keeping a roof over their heads.

As communities of faith, we will always respond in times of crisis. But we cannot carry this burden alone. The government of, by and for the people must respond as well. And so we will continue to lift our voices and insist that the goal of a moral America include what was stated 3,000 years ago: to build at last a community where, in the words of Deuteronomy, "there shall be no poor among you" (Deuteronomy 15:4)."

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Visit for more.

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