Religious leaders hoping state will help them care for the poor



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SALT LAKE CITY -- As Utah's legislators begin their final focus on what stays and what goes in this year's state budget, lobbyists are not the only ones waiting to hear the outcome. Religious leaders in our community are also watching with interest.

Churches and faith-based organizations care for those who live in poverty, but this year, with job losses and home foreclosures reaching record highs, all are seeing a wider circle of need.

Every day, hundreds show up to apply for a handful of jobs and more people lose their homes. They appeal to their churches or faith-based groups, which, in turn, look to the Utah Legislature for support.

The Most Rev. Bishop John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, urges lawmakers to think about what will be best for the majority of those in need.

"I think those legislative acts that are going to look toward helping children get an education, in terms of how we use the federal monies for our Medicare and Medicaid programs and how that's gonna be allocated, how we're gonna help the elderly -- especially those who may have had their 401(k)s or their pension programs slashed and are really struggling -- how are we gonna help them?" the bishop said.

Rev. France Davis, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, visits people in both declining health and challenging circumstances. His main concern is the attitude that comes when companies begin layoffs.

"‘Last hired will be the first fired.' That that kind of attitude with prevail with decision makers and budget cutting and adjusting politically and dealing with the issues of our community. And that that will mean that people of color will suffer disproportionately because of the negative things that are happening in the overall society," Davis said.

The Rev. Jennifer Hare is the executive director of Family Promise Salt Lake City, which helps homeless families. With their numbers increasing, she hopes for state funding to help keep them in the housing they find.

"We're having to create, we call it our housing retention fund so that we can pay for a utility bill, partial rent, so that we're preventing homelessness rather than just simply transitioning people from homelessness to housing. We don't want to see that cycle recur," Hare said.

Hare told us she urged the House Appropriations Committee to follow Gov. Jon Huntsman's recommendation to fund both The Pamela Atkinson Housing Trust Fund and The Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund.

That looks good, she says, but a one-time $500,000 contribution will not come again, so they are all half a million dollars short.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

Carole Mikita

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