Welfare for everyone--including the rich

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Cue the cries of "class warfare": A new report compiled by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma reveals some rather surprising information about Americans collecting government handouts--many of them are actually millionaires.

Newsweek reports that Americans earning more than $1 million collect more than $30 billion from the government each year. Coburn's report includes some shocking details, from celebrity millionaires receiving government subsidies to those with seven-figure salaries collecting billions in social security payments. While some opponents of government assistance programs claim that the poor take advantage of them rather than working for a living, this report shows that the rich are just as guilty--if not more so--of working the system.

From the perspective of Catholic social teaching, the information in this report is cause for serious concern. Whether or not you believe that government programs are the best way to address poverty, it is hard to find a justification in Catholic teaching for government handouts to those who are already wealthy, especially at a time when so many Americans are struggling. 

Members of Congress, however, aren't necessarily tuned in to those struggles. A report released this week reveals that nearly half of the nation's 535 congressional representatives are themselves millionaires. That comes on the heels of the 60 Minutes report that showed members of Congress are fully within their rights to use insider information to turn a profit on the stock market.

The U.S. bishops are squarely at odds with the government these days, yet strangely, it has nothing to do with a concern for the poor. As others have pointed out, the bishops' fall meeting this week is focusing heavily on the issues of same-sex marriage and religious liberty rather than care for the least among us and the need for major reform to our current economic policies.

If the church and government leaders aren't standing up for the poor, that leaves the members of the faithful to reach out to their brothers and sisters who are in need. And most likely, their definition of "in need" won't include those who already have hefty bank accounts.