News Revelations

Analysis: Congregations can’t make up for proposed federal budget cuts

Bread for the World, a bipartisan organization mobilizing Christians to urge their lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad, have figured every religious congregation in the U.S. would have to raise an additional $714,000 every year for the next 10 years to offset the budget cuts in President Trump's proposed 2018 budget. Infographic courtesy of Bread for the World

Bread for the World, a bipartisan organization mobilizing Christians to urge their lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad, has figured every religious congregation in the U.S. would have to raise an additional $714,000 every year for the next 10 years to offset the budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget. Infographic courtesy of Bread for the World

(RNS) A nonprofit has calculated that every religious congregation in the U.S. — Christian or otherwise — would have to raise an additional $714,000 every year for the next 10 years to make up for the 2018 budget cuts President Trump has proposed.

“There is no way our country’s 350,000 religious congregations can make up for the cuts in the services that help hungry, poor, and other vulnerable people,” the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said in a written statement.

“Congress should not justify budget cuts by saying that churches and charities can pick up the slack. They cannot.”

Officials at Bread for the World, a nonpartisan Christian anti-hunger group, were moved to do the math because, they say, lawmakers and conservative Christians often believe it’s chiefly up to individuals through charitable contributions, as opposed to the government through taxes, to decide how to help the needy.

But this would leave millions of needy people without life-sustaining services, the organization concluded.

Its numbers come from an estimate from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that shows more than half of those cuts — a total $2.5 trillion over 10 years — will come from programs that help Americans with low or moderate incomes.

There are more than 350,000 churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious congregations in the U.S., according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Bread for the World released its analysis Wednesday (June 21) as crowds gathered in Washington, D.C., to protest the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

The organization estimates cuts to health care alone under the American Health Care Act, the proposed replacement for the ACA, would take away $2,000 a year in services from every person living at or near the poverty line for the next 10 years.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

33 Comments

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  • Budget cuts should mean the government is spending less money, which means the government needs less money, which means the government can lower taxes, which means Christians have more money to give to the church.

    If the nation looks to God for provision, rather than government, the church will grow, and churches will have more money to help hungry, poor, and other vulnerable people.

    If the church grows, there will be an increase in the number of voters and politicians coming to the realization that the government should not redistribute wealth.

    If the government didn’t redistribute wealth, the economy would improve, more people would have jobs, revenue to the government would increase, and we could begin to pay down the national debt.

    The most important benefit of all this is that God will get the glory rather than government.

  • By this logic every time there has been a cut in the Federal or State taxes there should have been an equal increase in the income in churches. Hasn’t happened. Moreover, taxes are paid by citizens whether members of congregations or not. More than half of Americans are not members. There’s no way less than half of us can make up for the tax cuts received by all of us.
    “If the government didn’t redistribute wealth, the economy would improve, more people would have jobs, revenue to the government would increase, and we could begin to pay down the national debt.” We’ve been experimenting with this since Reagan. It hasn’t worked. Ask the folks in Kansas.

  • “God or government” is a false dichotomy. We aren’t instructed to look to God ‘instead of’ government any more than we are instructed to look to God ‘instead of’ medicine or medical doctors for conditions in which they are His appropriate instruments. Government IS one of the tools God gives us to do the work He has assigned us (Romans 13:1-2) – and He has certainly assigned us to take care of one another (Matthew 25:40).

    It is not an expression of righteous dependence on God when we avoid using the tools He makes available to us (including government); it is sin.

  • There is some truth to the math mentioned here. There are also many assumptions that don’t hold true necessarily. Government has a role to play. It cannot do it all, and it has never done it well or efficiently. The best overall solution is sustained economic growth and initiatives to help poor people gain skills, employment and entrepreneurial creativity while encouraging marriage and involvement in other stabilizing social institutions. We will always need some government assistance, and that is just and right. But our society has moved away from an American ideal of innovation, opportunity and hope that we can help each other achieve new heights. From Democrats like JFK to Repubs like Reagan, where has the optimism and challenge to “go big” gone? We have settled for a multi-victim culture, and it’s an ugly pose.

  • Who is going to make up the increasing Fed. debt?

    Our descendants.

    In less then 10 yrs., Medicare is insolvent,

    10 yrs. later, of less, Social Security is insolvent.

  • Basko, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need for “sustained economic growth and initiatives to help poor people gain skills, employment and entrepreneurial creativity while
    encouraging marriage and involvement in other stabilizing social
    institutions.”

    From a spiritual standpoint, I feel that our optimism and challenge to “go big” will return as Americans come to know and trust the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

  • The people who have not been paying a reasonable share of the tax revenue. Those alleged job makers who depress wages, cut jobs, give themselves huge salaries and hoard wealth.

    Plus by cutting the horrific and unaccounted waste in defense. One garbage F-35 fighter costs more than most states’ education budget.

    Plus austerity has never been able to spark economic growth or relieve poverty.

  • Lynn, you seem sincere in your desire to see people living in poverty having the medical care they need to survive and thrive. Have you heard those Words of Jesus Christ, when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are Gods”?? Besides the religious admonition to keep our allegiances and loyalties separated, there’s a great quality and financial efficiency argument to be made today:

    Liberals in the US may seem well-intentioned when they campaign for a one-payer (inferior) health care system. The care provided by such a government-run system, would be far inferior to what a free and fair market system can provide, especially when the ones needing health care have the true power of choice to select the health care establishments and doctors who can meet their needs for a price they can afford to pay. Free, fair ompetition will always provide us better goods and services than governments can, because governments have ZERO incentive to improve the quality or affordability of the care they offer.

  • Thank you for the reply. My thoughts on your piece:

    Regarding the text “Render unto Caesar…and unto God….” I believe you’re misinterpreting this specific text if you’re suggesting that it teaches us “to keep our allegiances and loyalties *separated* between God and civil government.” I think the better understanding of our personal allegiances is that *all* of it is to be to Him, and we should not confuse that allegiance with taking advantage of the proper role of tools He makes available, such as “Caesar” (civil government is one of His gifts, His tools; Romans 13:1-2). He makes a variety of tools available to us to accomplish the work He assigns us. Some are administered individually, others collectively. Civil government is one of these tools that is administered collectively, at least in a government such as the U.S.

    Separate from this text, I believe Jesus, and all of Scripture, teaches that we are to recognize the *limits of the effectiveness* of each of the tools He makes available to us, and use the best tool(s) available; don’t use a screwdriver where a spanner is the better tool. The resources administered by the tool that is Civil government are often the best that are available to us – especially when a collective solution is required. This doesn’t mean civil government is the *ideal* tool, and it isn’t an appropriate tool for everything. But civil government IS appropriate, and *the best tool available*, for the administration of many ministries of compassion in many different governmental scenarios. Dozens of other countries use it – without claiming that it is ideal, but finding it to be the best available.

    Ameriica has clearly not made this decision – yet. We may well find a better tool for collective services of compassion than all these other countires have – but it should be clear to all of us that what America has today is worse in quality and cost than that of every other developed nation, and many undeveloped nations.

    So, this takes us to the economics: from this point, you propose a “quality and financial efficiency argument.” Simply put, I do not believe this argument can be supported biblically for ministries of compassion and mercy, nor do I believe it has any real-world evidence of delivering on its promises in any nation, nor that it is possible for it to. It is a string of promises (such as you listed) which it cannot fulfill. Why?

    The answer is simple: free market capitalism is just another tool, it’s not a silver bullet. I wholeheartedly support it for areas where it fits. Like all tools, though, its effectiveness is limited in scope. It is not a good tool for providing services of compassion and mercy. Primarily this is because free market capitalism requires profit, and services of compassion and mercy do not accommodate a profit-driven scheme: compassion says you give the healthcare whether or not the patient can pay the asking price. And compassion says you must find funding that can do this: lose money over and over if that’s what the patient requires (for example, to meet the circumstances of the person born with a congenital defect that will cost millions every year). Capitalism simply isn’t built for these scenarios, and the U.S. healthcare and social support systems are trying to make it fit them.

    It is often said that capitalism is merciless, and it is. It’s the wrong tool for the job of providing compassion and mercy to a large population of people. Services of compassion and mercy require a different tool.

    Feel free, of course, to critique my assessment.

  • First: This isn’t a budget “cut”. This is a budget shift. The same amount is being spent, just parts of it redirected from other services to instead service an overbloated military. Don’t call it a “cut” if it is not a cut.

    Second, the money moved out of departments into the other departments is 37.8 billion. There are 1.5 million non-profits in the US.

    THEREFORE

    Nonprofits would need to raise a meager $2,520 extra dollars to “pick up the slack” of the US government.

    In 2013, US charities raised a combined total of $1.74 trillion. Or, on average, 1.16 million.

    IN OTHER WORDS ALL CHARITIES WOULD NEED TO DO IS INCREASE THEIR EARNINGS BY 0.217%

    Trump’s budget is stupid nonsense. But you don’t need to use DISHONEST and WRONG statistics to show that. What you did was use ONLY religious non-profits to try to debunk the argument that all non-profits could do it, and all non-profits would need to do just a small amount more to cover the loss to certain services in the budget!!

    Use honest statistics, you morons!! You shouldn’t NEED to lie to debunk any of Trump’s stupid ideas!! If you DO need to use lies to do so, you shouldn’t BE a journalist!!

  • “There is some truth to the math mentioned here.”

    No. $37.8 billion / 1.5 million non-profits in the US = $2,520, not $714,000. Their math is garbage.

  • Well, OK. And that is astoundingly less. Thanks for the clarity. Whatever the numbers, the strict government/private sector dichotomy is not reality based. It won’t ever be an either/or under the sun. In a perfect world, private charities would crowd out the need for government aid. But in a perfect world, government (read: the voters and their reps) would be fiscally responsible and able to help if needed. Civil government has a role, though hopefully much less than what is the trend now.

  • Of course its a budget cut. Not only are benefits being cut for the general public, but income is being reduced with an unnecessary and onerous tax cut on the uppermost wealthy to boot. It benefits the least people, and places burdens on the most.

    The idea that private charities should pick up the slack to make the hoarding of wealth at the top more viable is repugnant to any moral and fiscal sensibilities.

  • Not all non-profits are about servicing the poor. And where do you get your figures from?
    “According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. This number includes public charities, private foundations, and other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues.“

  • Lynn, thanks for your long and thoughtful response. In my reply to your initial writing, I said that “you seem sincere in your desire to see people living in poverty having the medical care they need to survive and thrive.” Nothing you’ve said here causes me to doubt that in the least.

    However, I believe we’re no different from most other believers in that we project onto this problem of health care for the less fortunate, all our own partial-and-mis-understandings of the issues involved, along with our own biases about politics, bolstered by our favorite passages from the Scriptures that we hope will prove or disprove whatever we wish them to.

    I’m afraid this is an area that we two believers will just have to agree to disagree!

    Thanks for putting forth your thoughts here to the readers of Slingshot. God Bless You!

  • I think you’ve misunderstood the point of their study and press release.

    “Officials at Bread for the World, a nonpartisan Christian anti-hunger group, were moved to do the math because, they say, lawmakers and conservative Christians often believe it’s chiefly up to individuals through charitable contributions, as opposed to the government through taxes, to decide how to help the needy.”

    They’re a religious group, and they hear the story/excuse for nonaction that is so often given by conservative Christians: government shouldn’t be providing compassionate assistance from tax dollars, that should be done by private (religious) individual contributions specified for those needs. Often it’s followed by the claim that “if every Christian gave what they should” or “if every church gave what they should” then all the needs would be covered.

    And Bread for the World is saying that it is not financially feasible; you would need >$700k per year from every congregation of all sizes, and of all religions, to cover the costs of the government cuts. (There are other studies that show the same: that what churches contribute to all the services of compassion is a drop in the bucket of the needs – but there are still lots of conservative Christians who hold this illogical view.)

  • Not so many. Most of our allies don’t want it. It has major performance issues which limit its market. Thanks to “sunk costs” fallacy the new plan is to partner them with upgraded previous generation fighters and reduce their intended role dramatically.

  • It is a fantasy that the rich heap upon the fools that vote for the wealthy’s Republican party believe. Maybe if there were a state church with mandatory 10% tithing from everyone, the churches and other places of worship could address the needs of the poor and disabled. However that is not an option in America. Further people do not give to charities including churches enough to make a serious change. What about the high percentage of the population who do not belong to a congregation and make no contribution? As for nonprofits, most that provide help get it through government grants along with deductible charitable contributions.

    The problem is the refusal to pay the taxes or set the priorities needed to solve the social needs of people. It is not a lack of money such as in a Third World country.

  • “The idea that private charities should pick up the slack to make the hoarding of wealth at the top more viable is repugnant to any moral and fiscal sensibilities.”

    That may be true, but that DOESN’T MAKE RNS’s FALSE STATISTICS CORRECT.

    I, here, don’t CARE to much about the morals of the issue enough to comment on it. I do, however, take issue to these intentionally misleading statistics and calculations!! These points can be made, EASILY, and WITHOUT LYING.

  • “Officials at Bread for the World, a nonpartisan Christian anti-hunger group, were moved to do the math because, they say, lawmakers and conservative Christians often believe it’s chiefly up to individuals through charitable contributions, as opposed to the government through taxes, to decide how to help the needy.”

    Look at that statement again. They want to counter a narrative that PRIVATE CHARITY can’t make up for Government spending. Which shouldn’t even be hard to do. BUT if you are going to play that game, you need to look at ALL Private Charity Groups.

    Limiting it to just religious groups because it is religious groups who make the case IS NEITHER LOGICALLY SOUND NOR HONEST because the religious groups are stating that ALL charity can make up for government spending decreases.

    It doesn’t matter if religious groups are making the argument, because their argument is about ALL charity, in GENERAL, not about specifically religious charitable giving.

    I know, I know, it’s SHOCKING but to actually debunk someone’s point you actually have to address THEIR POINT, not warp it into something they never said.

    IT SHOULD BE EASY TO ARGUE AGAINST TRUMP’S STUPID BUDGET.

    YOU GUYS DON’T NEED TO RESORT TO STUPID STATISTICS MANIPULATION TO DO SO.

  • Not all of the services cut from the budget service the poor either. Didn’t stop the the nonprofit above from acting as if all cuts were about servicing the poor when they made their calculation.

  • Oh! the worst of it is that the churches receive around 3/4 of all charitable donations, most of that goes in church maintenance, pastoral and staff salaries, and facilities. If they would give most of it to the poor . . . I’m sayin this as a Christian pastor

  • Thanks for addressing some of the points involved. I believe you’re still misunderstanding, but you clearly believe you do understand it, so that’s a good place to let it rest.

  • Take it up with them. You agree that tax cuts for the wealthy and benefit cuts to the poor is ridiculous. We have common ground.

  • You are using the “dishonest” argument that all non-profits are in the business of providing the services Trump’s budget is cutting. Oh I’m sorry, “shifting.”

  • Yet, if all of the able-bodied people who are on government subsistence were made to work, how much could the budget be cut while still serving the truly needy? I would like to see the requirement put back in place that first appeared under President Bill Clinton that if you are able-bodied, you have 2 years to learn a skill or trade OR 4 years to get a degree after which you were cut off from government subsistence. That short-lived effort saved this country billions of dollars and forced many leeches off of the government payroll and I can’t think of anything better!

  • What a nice give and take. If only ALL discussions were this civil, respectful and thoughtful, think how much better this country would be! Your discourse has shown us the way. Blessings on you both and on our country!

  • Lol. Incomplete thought. Let the states make up their own shortfalls by taxing their own citizens.

  • Render unto Caesar means exactly to pay your taxes to fund government projects. Rome had welfare and bailout tactics for its citizens as well. In the ancient world, all governments had provision particular to the poor.

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