Advocacy, Catholics Confront Global Poverty

Seeking Support for Debt Relief Legislation

Since the late 1990’s, debt relief amounting to well over $100 billion has been committed to 33 poor countries, mostly in Africa and Latin America. Countries receiving debt relief have increased substantially their spending for education, health care and other investments directed at improving the lives of poor and vulnerable people. The most recent success occurred on June 30 when Haiti, the poorest country in the Hemisphere, was granted $1.2 billion in debt cancellation by the major international financial institutions. Much of the tremendous progress that has been achieved in the past decade is due to the efforts of Catholics and other faith-based advocates in the United States and around the world.

But the job is not yet finished. There are still some 20 very poor countries that are not eligible for international debt relief. Legislation designed to address this deficiency passed the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2008, but the session ended before it could be considered by the full Senate. We expect the bill to be reintroduced in the House, and hopefully the Senate, in the coming months.

It will be extremely important to the success of this effort to have the support of the Obama Administration. USCCB staff has participated in meetings with newly-appointed senior officials in the Treasury Department. They have shown an openness to dialogue about the need for further debt relief. We should have a better idea where they and Congress stand sometime in the fall. Stay tuned!

– Gerry Flood, debt relief and development policy advisor, Justice Peace and Human Development/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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