It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, in the form of early presents from Washington to some beleaguered American companies. The news this week that the big three domestic automakers will get $15 billion in emergency loan guarantees to stave off bankruptcy follows an autumn of similar steps.

Loan guarantees, lines of credit, stock purchases and other instruments designed to save companies such as Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and Citigroup totaled some $425 billion in obligations assumed by the federal government. This comes on top of the $700 billion set aside for a program to buy up the troubled mortgage-backed securities that form the sandy ground of the nation’s wobbly financial edifice. Discussion has since turned to assisting homeowners in danger of foreclosure by tapping the latter fund.

So far more than a trillion federal dollars have been committed to restoring America’s financial health. And the incoming Obama administration has begun to float plans for an economic stimulus package that would create jobs and other programs toward the same goal.

It remains too early to tell what ultimate effect these and perhaps new programs will have. Everyone hopes the leaders in Washington pull the right levers to restore prosperity for all Americans, in every economic class.

Those leaders should heed the Church’s social teaching on the principal of subsidiarity. The concept, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, states that “a community of a higher order should not assume the task belonging to a community of a lower order and deprive it of its authority. It should rather support it in case of need.”

In the current context, Washington should continue to support federal-state partnerships concerning job creation, medical assistance and social service programs for the neediest people – on the state level. The National Governors Association, meeting with President-elect Obama last week in Philadelphia, stressed this very point.

Operating from subsidiarity, the federal government can assure that the common resources of the American people are used with maximum flexibility and effectiveness, for the good of Americans living on the proverbial Main Street. As Washington addresses economic situations that exceed the reach of inspanidual states, so the states too must give responsibility for allocating resources to county and municipal authorities.

Action in a time of distress is not only required of government, but also of inspaniduals working through charities. The Bless the Baby Jesus Advent Prayer Service held last Sunday at the Cathedral was a creative way to donate toward the good work of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services. Other ways include parish outreach efforts, Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

While inspanidual acts of kindness don’t carry the cache of billion dollar bailouts, they can help needy people in our own backyard today – hopefully, before they need rescue.