By Ann Schneible, National Catholic Register
With the world entering its second Christmas season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 — alongside surging inflation rates nationwide in recent months — the increase of lower-income people turning to the Church for aid has risen.
“As gas prices rise, rent costs soar and food expenses increase, our clients and participants struggle with the basics of life,” said Darren Walsh, president, and CEO of Catholic Charities of Denver.
Experts are projecting an inflation increase of 6.7% from one year ago this December, marking the highest annual increase since 1982. In October, the rate had seen an increase of 6.2% over the course of the previous year, the highest it had been since 1990.
The spike in inflation has impacted the cost of basic necessities, such as food, housing, energy, and car sales, with lower-income communities being hit the hardest.
“While many of them don’t talk about inflation per se,” Walsh told the Register, “they do feel the impacts as much as or more than any other groups in our society.”
“We work with thousands of people across Colorado who are on the margins,” Walsh said, “women experiencing homelessness; seniors who live in our affordable-housing programs; grandparents taking care of grandchildren; veterans who worry about where their next meal will come from; young families who need quality early education for their little ones.”
“Thankfully, our Colorado neighbors are generous, so we are able to address some of those gaps, but it’s clear that the needs continue to increase in our community,” he added.
Different parts of the country are seeing varying ways in which local communities are being impacted by the rising prices.
“We have not seen an increase in the need for financial support, but we have seen an increase in the number of homeless that are living in the streets,” said Stephanie Reed, communications manager at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Due to our unique placement downtown, we also have an organized weekly outreach to the homeless community,” Reed told the Register. “Each Friday a group of parishioners goes out into the streets to pray with and offer a meal and other needs, such as gloves, chapstick, and water to our neighbors that live around us.”
The cathedral additionally has an “outreach ministry that is staffed and funded by parishioners,” Reed said, which offers financial “assistance for rent, water, car troubles, etc.,” when possible. They also collaborate with the local Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities in serving the poor.
“We welcome all of our parishioners to get involved in these outreach programs at the level in which they feel comfortable,” Reed said. “Some people are able to help by giving financial gifts or groceries. Others feel called to have a more hands-on approach. All are welcome to engage in the way they feel the Holy Spirit is calling them to work.”
Causes of Inflation
Poor leadership and unnecessary spending on the part of lawmakers are being cited as a reason for inflation by economists, such as Sophia Maria Aguirre, an economics professor at The Catholic University of America.
Lawmakers “need to be looking at what are the sources that facilitate people to work instead of just expanding the deficit of the government,” Aguirre told the Register.
“I think it’s the responsibility of the lawmakers to control the spending because it affects not only our generation.”
People working in a lower-income bracket are being hit the hardest by the rise in inflation, even in instances where salaries are increasing due to the difficulty in finding people willing to work.
“We do have, we see a relatively high increase, in salary, in low-income jobs, lower-paying jobs, because people don’t want to work,” she said.
“What happens is that places you in a higher income bracket, which really is not reflective of the purchasing powers, so it affects even further low-income people,” she added. This results in an inflation tax, wherein “you end up paying higher taxes because you fall in the higher bracket, even though the purchasing power has not increased. In fact, that’s deteriorated.”
Some regions have not observed a notable increase in financial need over the past months, but say the spike in economic difficulties that hit early in the pandemic has not declined.
A spokesman for Catholic Charities in Birmingham, Alabama, told the Register that people are always looking for more financial support during the winter, but that the financial difficulties had otherwise remained relatively steady since the pandemic.
In the Northeast, meanwhile, “early in the pandemic, the food pantries around us were really hurting,” said Father Samuel Kachuba, pastor of St. Pius X in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Located in a “suburban, middle-upper-middle-class demographic,” Pius X parishioners “responded beautifully” to the needs of the wider community.
“We collected carloads of food every week and had volunteers who were ready to bring it to the pantries most in need,” the priest explained.
“In addition to the ongoing food collections, we’ve also been able to maintain a pretty steady supply of gift cards for groceries. It seems like each time someone has come directly to the parish looking for help, thank God, we’ve had the stuff necessary to help them in some way.”
“A handful of times in the last two years, I’ve had a family or parishioner come to me in some economic distress,” Father Kachuba added. “I see how hard it is for them to ask for help, especially when it is a new experience for them.”
Although “some of the urgency of the need diminished” as the region eased its pandemic restrictions, it’s still present.
SOURCE Ann Schneible: © 2021 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register – www.ncregister.com.
PHOTO CREDIT Mark Panelo