BALTIMORE (CNS) — Congressional consideration of budget cutting to avoid the process known as sequestration should be careful to avoid hurting the poor and vulnerable in society, warned the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. bishops.

In a letter to members of the House and Senate released Nov. 14, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, warned that the goal of addressing long-term deficits “must not be achieved at the expense of the dignity of poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.”

The sequester is a package of automatic federal spending cuts that would begin taking effect Jan. 1, if Congress doesn’t work out the details of a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan. The cuts would affect military spending, except for what goes to support wars, and other discretionary spending.

The text of the Nov. 13 letter was released during the U.S. bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.

The letter from Bishop Blaire and Bishop Pates, who chair the committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, outlined moral principles for budgetary deliberations.

“Every budget decision,” they said, “should be assessed on whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity,” how it affects “the least of these,” and whether each decision respects shared responsibility of government and other institutions to promote the common good.

The social safety net is especially vulnerable to cuts, and therefore so are the people who rely upon it to survive, the bishops said.

“Drastic cuts to affordable housing and community development programs, child and maternal health initiatives and workforce training could deprive millions of Americans of resources they depend on to live in a manner worthy of their human dignity,” their letter said.

It also cautioned against cutting “poverty-focused international assistance that promote human life and dignity, advance solidarity with poorer nations and enhances global stability and security,” and which account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget and have always enjoyed bipartisan support.

The bishops noted their appreciation for protections for some low-income entitlement programs that Congress and the Obama administration extended in the bipartisan agreement.

“We urge that this principle be extended to all programs that respect and support the lives of poor persons at home and abroad,” they said.

“We remind you that the moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated,” they concluded, offering the assistance of the U.S. bishops in achieving a range of fiscal goals, while protecting the poor and vulnerable.