Who is elected to Congress this year will make a critical difference in determining if hunger and poverty continue to rise in America, says Sister Marge Clark, one of the "Nuns on the Bus," who spoke at a Reston community forum Thursday night on Moral Issues in Public Budgeting.
"I am not nearly as concerned about who wins the presidency as who gets in the House and the Senate, and if they are supportive of people in need," Sister Marge told an audience of about 100 at United Christian Parish.
"The federal budget is my passion, and the House-passed budgets of 2012 and 2013 are our biggest problems when it comes to helping the poor," she said. "Those budgets support the wealthiest Americans at the expense of those at or near poverty."
The Nuns on the Bus movement began two years ago with an initial trip of 15 days by 20 Roman Catholic sisters seeking help "for people to live with dignity."
It has grown into 20 tours across the country involving several hundred women. Sister Marge said the group has had a big effect in many communities.
"We have raised a lot of awareness about how to give people help, and how to make policy changes at the national and local levels," she said. "People are coming to realize that they can't just help out at food banks and homeless shelters but they must contact their legislators."
A panelist on the program, Jeff Connor-Naylor of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis Needs in Virginia, a research institute, urged the audience to ask Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to accept federal funds for the state's Medicaid program.
"The key issue in Virginia right now is whether to expand our Medicaid program," Connor-Naylor said. "We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to extend health care to thousands of folks in Virginia."
Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, also a panelist, said that 6.8 percent of Fairfax County residents -- 74,000 people - live in poverty (defined as having an annual income of less than $22,350 for a family of four).
She stressed the need for new approaches to problems - such as moving people into transitional housing instead of building more homeless shelters - but said the county faces a projected budget shortfall of more than $100 million in both FY 2014 and 2015.
The community forum was sponsored by the Justice Mobilization Task Force of the United Christian Parish.