The 50th anniversary of Sister Visitor Center this year is cause for celebration and concern.
Since 1969, women religious have led efforts to aid impoverished families in the Portland, Russell and Shawnee neighborhoods in West Louisville at the center, which is part of Catholic Charities of Louisville. It provides help with rent, utility bills, prescriptions and medical supplies as well as food and clothing.
As reporter Ruby Thomas wrote in last week’s edition of The Record, the center is a success because of its dedicated volunteers and the support of donors, particularly parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
About 25 volunteers pitch-in each week to serve the center’s clients, which number about 300 a month.
Such a thriving charity is cause for celebration.
But it should also raise fresh concerns that in 50 years the needs of the poor have changed very little.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 39.7 million people nationwide were living in poverty in 2017, about 12.3 percent of the population. In 1969, the poverty rate nationwide sat at about 12.2 percent. At the time, that was about 24 million people.
In the Portland, Shawnee and Russell neighborhoods, poverty has grown, too, according to Sister Michele Intravia, an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph who leads Sister Visitor.
She told Thomas, “The need is becoming greater and greater.”
It’s possible the need will grow even more, if a plan being considered by the administration of President Donald Trump is adopted.
The plan would use a different measure to determine who lives in poverty. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people already unable to make ends meet could lose federal assistance, according to Catholic advocates of the poor.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul jointly submitted comments on the plan. They said the plan is flawed, indicating that the new measure of poverty would be less accurate than the current model. The U.S. Census Bureau has long measured poverty by the Consumer Price Index. Instead, the new plan calls for measures based on the “chained Consumer Price Index.”
An analysis by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that over the next decade the new plan would result in more than 300,000 children and pregnant women losing access to health care coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Hundreds of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities would lose or see cuts to Medicare parts B and D.
These cuts and others will place a larger burden on charities like Sister Visitor Center and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
“In virtually every community we serve, the need for rent and utility assistance, food and nutrition, mental and other health services, and childcare already far outpaces the resources we have, so we are forced to turn people away. Our local agencies and programs will not be able to meet the increased need,” said the comments from the USCCB and Catholic charities.
The comments go on to say, “We will continue to support as many people as possible, but we cannot do it alone. A just and compassionate government is necessary in our common quest to serve and lift people out of poverty and help them pursue a dignified life.”
A just and compassionate government would reflect the values of the Catholic faith.
Pope Francis said in an audience July 14, “Being able to have compassion; this is the key. If you stand before a person in need and don’t feel compassion, if your heart is not moved, that means something is wrong. Be attentive.”
Whether our government can muster that compassion remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s be sure to show it to Sister Visitor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.