Obamacare Mandate Harms the Poor: A Case Study of Catholic Charities

Melanie Wilcox / Luciana Milano /

Ruby was unable to pay her rent and had been evicted from her apartment. Now she was drenched in the rain.

“I was sitting out in the rain with all my stuff lying around,” Ruby said. “My daughter and I sat there all day.”

That’s when Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., stepped into help. Ruby went to the Harriet Tubman Emergency Women’s Shelter, a low-barrier spot for women over the age of 18 who are in urgent need of housing, food or case management.

“They’ve given me a roof over my head, three meals a day, and someone to talk to if I have a problem,” Ruby said.

In addition to serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the shelter staff assists the 100 women with life skills, employment, hygiene issues, drug rehabilitation and financial management.

Diana, another woman staying at the shelter and former medical office assistant, has been taking advantage of the programs the shelter has to offer, including attending job fairs.

“I’ve been working very hard to get myself out,” Diana said. “It’s not somewhere I ever expected to be in my life.”

Diana and Ruby, who asked us to not use her last names, have hope thanks in part to Catholic Charities. But now, as a result of Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate, the organization might not be able to provide that assistance in the future.

Catholic Charities of D.C. faces uncertainty due to the mandate, which forces almost all insurance plans to provide and pay for coverage of “preventative” services, including abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization. The alternative is a hefty fine that, in the case of Catholic Charities of D.C., could exceed more than $1.6 million per year.

The mandate, finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year, prompted Catholic Charities of D.C. to file a lawsuit against the federal government. It is one of 58 plaintiffs taking legal action.

During a campaign stop in Colorado yesterday, President Obama defended the HHS mandate. He also falsely claimed his administration “worked with Catholic hospitals and universities to find a solution that protects both religious liberty and a woman’s health. The so-called “accommodation” is simply an accounting gimmick, according to Heritage’s Sarah Torre.

In order to be exempt from fines, Catholic Charities of D.C. would only be able to employ and serve Catholics. That stands in stark contrast with the organization’s mission.

“We don’t do these things because [the needy are] Catholic. We do these things because we’re Catholic. That’s who we are,” said Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of D.C. “Our programs serve 80 percent of those who are non-Catholic.”

Enzler added: “Instead of asking “what is your faith,” we can ask “what do you need.”

In 2011, Catholic Charities of D.C. significantly helped the needy:

Enzler described this moment as the “perfect storm.” He said, “We have an economy that has diminished, people’s philanthropy has also become a little bit limited because their own income has diminished, and then you have the needs of the poor coming up.”

Now the HHS mandate threatens Catholic Charities of D.C.’s ability to continue making significant contributions to help people like Diana and Ruby.

“I’m just very glad I have a place to stay,” said Diana. “They’ve all been a great help.”

Melanie Wilcox and Luciana Milano are members of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.