April 7, 2008
Dear Members of the House:
As Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I write to offer my church’s very strong endorsement for H.R. 2634, the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Debt Cancellation, which is scheduled for consideration on the House floor this week. This critical bipartisan legislation begins the process of canceling the debts of poor countries around the world that currently are unable to gain traction in the fight against poverty and disease as a consequence of crippling debt burdens.
The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, more than half of whose 80 million members live in countries suffering under the weight of widespread and life-threatening poverty and diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. These countries spend more than $100 million per day repaying old debts to rich countries like the United States, and to multilateral lending institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Astonishingly, Africa alone spends more money each year on debt repayments than it receives in foreign aid focused on fighting poverty. Foreign aid initiatives, like the landmark Global AIDS bill passed by the House last week, must be matched with initiatives to cancel decades-old debt, much of it accrued by corrupt regimes long gone. Today, this debt is creating a slow bleed of precious resources from desperately needy countries.
Recognizing this dire situation, the Episcopal Church, Pope John Paul II, and many other faith leaders and communities played central roles in the Jubilee 2000 movement, which resulted in a first round of limited debt cancellation for some poor countries. Now, nearly a decade after the Jubilee 2000 movement spurred the historic international agreement on debt relief, the fruits of that effort are clear in countries that benefited. Mozambique increased rates of childhood vaccination by more than 80 percent and brought electrification to rural schools and hospitals. Uganda and Kenya were able to increase primary-school enrollment nearly two-fold, providing a future for children — particularly girls — who would otherwise be denied access to learning. Cameroon implemented a groundbreaking national HIV/AIDS initiative that has made significant inroads against mother-to-child transmission of the virus. These lives saved are a direct consequence of the generosity of nations like the United States in implementing the Jubilee 2000 debt package and the follow-up initiative of the 2005 G8 meeting.
Today, however, more than 65 countries still need complete cancellation of their debts if they are to meet the poverty-eradication targets adopted by the U.S. and other nations in the Millennium Declaration of 2000. The Jubilee Act begins that process, directing the U.S. Administration to work with other creditor countries to remit both the multilateral and bilateral debts of poor countries. Significantly, the bill requires countries to demonstrate sound governance and fiscal management before qualifying for debt relief, and requires savings to be invested directly in the programs that lift people out of poverty.
Thanks to strong bipartisan leaders like Reps. Waters, Bacchus, and Frank, the Jubilee Act has strong backing among both Democrats and Republicans, and was passed without objection last week in the Financial Services Committee. Its passage by Congress would be a significant and meaningful contribution to the stability and security of our world, and to the lives and full flourishing of millions of God’s people across the planet.
In the Christian tradition, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus preached the very first sermon of his public ministry on the expectation of Jubilee, drawing from Isaiah’s prophecy of liberty for the oppressed and a season of God’s favor for all people. Our nation, in its finest hours, has been a bringer of Jubilee to neighbors in need around the world, and our present engagement in the fight to rid the world of death-dealing poverty and disease is a signal of how deeply that spirit of Jubilee is inscribed in the hearts of our own citizens. Debt cancellation is a critical step in that fight, and I urge your strong support for the Jubilee Act when it comes to a vote this week.
Please know that you are ever in my prayers, and that I remain
Your servant in Christ,
Katharine Jefferts Schori