The big colorful bus sponsored by Network, a Catholic social justice lobby group from Washington, stopped in Dubuque June 19, the second day of its tour through nine states to alert people to how cuts in the proposed Ryan budget would harm those already struggling.
The 15-day tour, dubbed by its organizers as “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith Family and Fairness,” stopped at the parking lot of Maria House, which provides emergency transitional housing for women, to highlight the work of Catholic sisters and their collaborators whose ministries serve the poor.
Maria House, a collaborative project of six Catholic women’s religious congregations in the tri-state area, the Dubuque Food Pantry, and the Presentation Lantern Center, which provides tutoring to immigrants, are all on the same block. Crescent Community Health Center is a few blocks away.
Tia, a young single mother of two children, told the crowd of sisters, legislators and others gathered on the hot summer morning how proposed cuts in the federal budget would affect her. She plans to move out of Maria House soon and says the skills she has learned there will give her family a better future, but she desperately needs other services.
“My Title XIX benefit allows my family to see a doctor when we are sick,” she said. “Otherwise, I would have no form of health care and the doctor bills would definitely pile up.”
Like many others, Tia relies on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to feed her children. Health benefits and the nutrition program are just two of several items that would receive huge cuts if the proposed federal budget that passed the House in May were adopted.
“We come today to speak out, to complain that the House budget proposed by Congressman (Paul) Ryan is wrong, wrong, wrong,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who has served as executive director of Network since 2004.
She said the country’s debt is not due to Social Security and Medicare benefits but from starting two wars and not raising taxes to pay for them. “Rather we cut taxes at the very moment we started spending more so we need to be responsible, we need to pay for the programs we believe in and we need to invest in the future. That’s what a faithful budget would do.”
Michelle Brown, executive director of Opening Doors, a nonprofit umbrella group that includes Maria House and the nearby Teresa Shelter, said budget cuts would be bad news. “Cutting the food stamp and housing programs will be like slamming the door in the faces of those that we are trying to open doors for,” she said.
Mary Rose Corrigan, president of the board of Crescent Community Health Center and director of health services for the city of Dubuque, said health centers like Crescent “have been surviving on the continuing resolution within our federal budget, so every quarter we get the word — ‘oh, yes, you still get money.'”
“I don’t know very many businesses that continue to operate on that kind of a system,” she added. “We believe that we have a very good model and will continue to be funded but we are always under the threats of cuts.”
Crescent accepts Medicaid and Medicare and is able to survive because the federal government allows health centers to receive a higher rate of payment for their Medicaid patients to offset the cost of patients who pay nothing or very little. Cuts in Medicaid would have a huge effect on the center’s budget, although part of it comes from fundraising, cost cutting and relying on the generosity of others.
“Crescent is not a free clinic,” said Corrigan, “but it instills self-responsibility for one’s own health and part of that is paying something for your health care. But we cannot survive without our federal community health center grant and Medicaid monies,” she added.
Although the Senate rejected the House budget in May, the bus tour is designed to alert people to contact their congressional legislators and ask that these cuts not show up in the future.
The “Nuns on the Bus” tour is gaining national media attention. Videographers from CNN, PBS, CBS and documentary producers threaded their way though the crowds in Dubuque and followed the bus into Wisconsin.
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