OP-ED: As Pope Shines Light on the Least of These, Pennsylvania Turns its Back

Media Contact: Yvette A. Nunez, 267-241-9361

by Cynthia Figueroa

As a Latina and graduate of the third oldest Jesuit college in the nation, Spring Hill College, I am particularly excited to welcome our first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis, to Philadelphia. After college, I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and so it is from this shared commitment to social justice that I wish he was coming at a better time for the most vulnerable citizens of Philadelphia.

Keeping in mind the Jesuit tradition of leadership in service to others and a quest for social justice, I can’t help but wonder what Pope Francis would have to say about the challenges the state budget has placed on Pennsylvania’s poor and those who serve them. A pope who stands with and for the poor arrives to Philadelphia as many nonprofits expend their lines of credit awaiting for the City and State to pay for services rendered. The desperation is evident, as some providers begin to advocate only for their own stake in the budget versus everyone’s stake, prioritizing the homeless over domestic violence victims, or children over the elderly. Pope Francis, as I, understand them all to be the least of these.

It is the least of these who have had to receive a crash course in social service funding in order to understand why they now have to tell their children to walk home alone because their afterschool program is closed and mommy can’t leave work. The least of these are sitting in foster care for a longer period of time because the mandated classes their parents have to take for reunification have been suspended. It is the least of these who have to put on a brave face for their children because the emergency relocation assistance for domestic violence victims and their children has halted. It is even the least of these who show up to work each day to serve their neighbors, as they make up a significant percent of the social service sector’s workforce.

At Congreso de Latinos Unidos where I work as CEO, 40 percent of our workforce lives in Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. These are the same full-time workers surviving on 40 percent less as salary reductions, furloughs and layoffs hamper our ability to meet the needs of all of these. Since July 1, we have spent more than $30,000 a day to continue to provide basic human services, because unlike Harrisburg, we know that our clients, the majority of whom live on a household income of less than $11,000, don’t have “however long it takes.”

In 2013, Pope Francis said, “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation…protectors of one another and of the environment.” In that vein, I ask Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature to protect those citizens that have entrusted them with their wellbeing and end this budget impasse.