NEW YORK — In a letter to Congress, the U.S. bishops outlined a number of key priorities – including housing assistance, healthcare and a pathway to citizenship – for lawmakers to consider for the next COVID-19 relief package.

“We ask you to continue your efforts to assess and respond to the needs that are present both here in our country and around the world,” the letter reads. “We especially encourage you to consider how additional COVID relief should promote the dignity and value of all human life and protect poor and vulnerable people who are at most risk.”

The Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion package, billed as the American Rescue Plan, would include $1,400 stimulus checks to eligible recipients, $400 a week in federal unemployment aid, $25 billion in rental assistance, extension of the eviction moratorium and $160 billion to fight coronavirus with a national vaccination program, expanded testing and a public health jobs program, and other provisions.

No matter what the final package amounts to, the bishops urged Congress in the letter to “use the money and policies in these bills to fund and promote life-affirming policies and not to advance the destruction of innocent unborn human life.” The contents of the relief package, found at the White House website, does not include any funding related to abortion.

The signatories of the letter are Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas.

The complete list of priorities in the letter includes:

  • Hunger and nutrition
  • Housing assistance
  • Catholic and non-public education
  • Pathway to citizenship and work authorization
  • Testing, vaccinations and treatment for all
  • Health care
  • Employment and income support
  • Access to stimulus payments
  • International response
  • State and local governments
  • Safety in prisons, jails and detention centers
  • Racial justice
  • Charitable sector

The American Rescue Plan includes most of these priorities, but doesn’t mention K-12 Catholic and non-public schools specifically as part of a $170 billion dollars for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.

The bishops argue that “non-public schools have had access to equitable services since 1965 and have been included in all recent federal emergency aid bills.” December’s $900 billion stimulus package set aside $2.75 billion for private schools.

The relief package, however, would include $5 billion for governors to use at their discretion towards education support and learning needs of students, which the bishops support.

The Biden Administration’s package also doesn’t mention a pathway to citizenship and work authorization. In the letter, the bishops call for the next package to include these provisions for all nonimmigrants, essential workers, Dreamers and temporary protected status (TPS) holders “to prevent confusion and adverse consequences for their immigration status in the future.”

Biden has proposed a separate immigration bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people.

The bishops also urge Congress to ensure that health coverage is provided to people without access to employer sponsored insurance, Medicaid, or can’t afford a private insurance plan.

Biden makes his intention to expand affordable healthcare clear in the American Rescue Plan. The president also calls on Congress to subsidize continuation health coverage – the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) that allows families to maintain coverage after they lose it – through September.

The bishops also urge Congress that “any public option for health care, or similar efforts to increase access to health care, must include protections against using taxpayer dollars for elective abortions.”

On all of these issues, the bishops tell Congress that they are ready to assist them in these efforts, “and we ask our Lord to guide you as you weigh decisions that will impact so many.”

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