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United States able to assist hurricane victims in the Gulf and vulnerable abroad

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Washington (September 29, 2005)- The United States has the ability and the responsibility to assist hurricane victims at home as well as the poor and vulnerable abroad, according to two Church leaders, who urged funding for an array of foreign assistance programs.

In a letter to the Senate conferees on the bill appropriating funds for foreign operations, Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, and Kenneth Hackett reminded the Senators of the need to address the critical needs of the world's poor. Bishop Ricard chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops International Policy Committee, and Hackett is president and chief executive officer of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

"At the same time Congress responds generously and quickly to those who have lost so much, we ask that you continue to work to improve the lives of those who have so little around the world," they said. "We believe our great nation has the will, the resources, and the responsibility to do both."

Excerpts from the letter by Bishop Ricard and Hackett, highlighting the priorities of the USCCB and CRS, follow:

Global Health: We support at a minimum the Senate-approved appropriation of $2.96 billion for morally appropriate, comprehensive programs to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Development and Humanitarian Assistance: We urge you to support the Senate-approved funding levels for core development and humanitarian assistance accounts.

International Debt Relief: We strongly support the Senate-approved appropriation of $99.75 million for international debt relief.

International Financial Institutions: We urge adoption of the House-approved appropriation of $950 million for the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA). Full funding of the U.S. contribution to IDA is crucial to avoid undercutting the recent G-8 agreement on new IDA debt cancellation for poor countries which we worked for and welcome.

Millennium Challenge Account (MCA): We support at a minimum the Senate-approved appropriation of $1.8 billion. Without significant funding for the MCA, any hope for the success of this innovative approach to foreign assistance will remain far off. We also encourage conferees to focus FY 2006 MCA funding on the world's poorest countries, which have the greatest needs.

Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA): We support the Senate-approved appropriation of $900 million for the State Department's MRA account, which funds the U.S. refugee admissions and overseas refugee assistance programs.

Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA): We urge conferees to adopt the Senate-approved appropriation of $40 million for the ERMA account, which funds efforts to address emerging refugee crises throughout the world.

In addition to the above priorities, the Bishops' Conference urges action to help a number of countries and regions with the following urgent needs:

Peace in the Holy Land: We urge you to support the House-approved appropriation of $150 million to help the Palestinians build capacity for the peace process and eventual statehood. We also urge conferees to reject onerous conditions attached to the funding that will limit its effectiveness and delay its delivery. Now is the time to invest in a just peace in the Holy Land and to help bring about a peaceful Palestinian state.

Sudan: We urge you to support the House-approved appropriation of $367 million for Sudan in order to support critical peace and humanitarian efforts in the Darfur region and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Southern Sudan.

Colombia: We urge you to support the Senate's certification provisions on "Demobilization of Foreign Terrorist Organizations" related to funding for Colombia. ... [A]ny provision of U.S. funds for the current demobilization must be conditioned upon strict human rights criteria and monitoring.

Haiti: We urge you to support the Senate-approved appropriation of $116 million for Haiti. ... to help them deal with ongoing political and social unrest and to enable the upcoming elections to take place without disruption.

Indonesia: We urge the House to adopt the Senate language conditioning military assistance to Indonesia upon certification by the Secretary of State that certain well-defined human rights improvements have been made by the Indonesian Armed Forces. We are pleased that the Conference Report of last year did contain such language and urge that it be restated this year.

We ask that you support funding for and the inclusion of each of the above initiatives in addition to the funding levels for other health, development and humanitarian assistance programs.

Finally, we wish to underscore our support for continuing the U.S. policies on UNFPA and the Mexico City Policy:

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): We strongly oppose language included in Title III of the Senate-passed bill that would weaken the Kemp-Kasten amendment by narrowing the terms under which UNFPA can be declared ineligible for U.S. funding. We urge conferees to fully reinstate the Kemp-Kasten policy against funding organizations involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Congress should not earmark funds for UNFPA, whose support for the coercive population program in the People's Republic of China has rendered it ineligible for U.S. funds in recent years.

Mexico City Policy: We strongly oppose SEC. 6111 in the Senate-passed bill, which states that foreign nongovernmental organizations shall not be ineligible for U.S. funds solely on the basis of the health or medical services they provide with non-U.S. government funds. This provision would effectively overturn the Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. funding of NGOs which perform and promote abortion as a family planning method in developing nations.

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