National Catholic Reporter

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Washington

Despite year-end budget deal, future spending trends less certain

The $1.1 trillion federal spending bill approved by Congress avoided a repeat of last year's government shutdown and largely kept in place social services spending, especially programs benefiting low-income families.

Beyond the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, the future is less certain, however, as Republican victories in the November elections gave the party control of both chambers on Capitol Hill. With the new leaders come new plans on limiting federal spending and reducing the country's $17.6-trillion debt.

Rabbi David Saperstein confirmed as U.S. ambassador for religious freedom

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The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement's Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Barack Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Friday.

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

CRS, nonprofits beat back clause in bill that could have cut food aid

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Catholic Relief Services and a host of other nonprofit agencies that distribute food aid overseas were successful in getting lawmakers to purge a provision in a bill that could have cut the amount of food aid they would be able to distribute in the future.

The provision would have increased from 50 percent to 75 percent the amount of food aid that must be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged ships. In 2012, Congress had lowered the requirement from 75 percent to 50 percent.

Federal panel named for former inmate looks to reform prisons

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Chuck Colson turned seven months behind bars into an opportunity to start over. Now the Justice Department is looking to his example as it tries to reform the federal prison system.

The bipartisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections kicked off its work at the Capitol on Tuesday, with former Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., R-Okla., its chairman, declaring its charge to make the federal prison system safer, less costly and more humane.

Supreme Court to decide if vanity license plates are government speech

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The Supreme Court already has heard a case this fall about a busted brake light. Why not vanity license plates?

The justices agreed to decide whether Texas was right to deny a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag, or whether it infringed on free speech.

In doing so, the court held in abeyance another case in which North Carolina approved a "Choose Life" license plate but denied one defending a woman's right to choose.

After Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions, white Christians say it's time to stand with blacks

"African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed."

It's the kind of statement that's often cited by black clergy and civil rights activists. But hours after a grand jury on Wednesday chose not to indict the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal choke hold on Staten Island, those words came from none other than white evangelical leader Russell Moore.

Faith leaders join consumer advocates to push for lower payday loan rates

Dozens of faith leaders and consumer advocates are pressing Congress to create a national interest rate cap for payday lenders instead of the exorbitant three-digit rates currently charged to people in several states.

Eighty activists from 22 states came to Washington in hopes of shaping new regulations that are expected from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many of their congregations are surrounded by payday loan businesses that they say prey on poor residents by charging high interest rates and creating a cycle of debt.

Empowering women can lead to solutions for hunger, poverty, report says

In the fight against worldwide hunger and poverty, a new report found that when women are empowered, everyone wins.

The Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analyses on hunger and offers strategies to end it, presented the results from its recent hunger report, "When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger," in a panel discussion Monday.

The panelists, including directors from several nonprofit groups and other organizations, spoke about ways to support women experiencing poverty and hunger.

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