Yellen to meet religious leaders, NGO group pushing for debt relief

U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen attends economic briefing at the White House in Washington
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends an economic briefing with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet on Tuesday with Jubilee USA Network, a non-profit group that advocates for debt relief for developing countries, and senior religious leaders from large U.S. Christian and Jewish faith groups.

The online meeting will focus on ways to increase resources to help poor and middle income countries contain the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent debt restructuring and climate change, said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network.

LeCompte said it was common for religious leaders to meet once with a U.S. president during a term, but a meeting with a Treasury secretary was unusual.

"What's unique is that the major religious institutions are coming together to solve the current pandemic crisis and prevent future crises," he said. The World Bank estimates the pandemic will push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty.

He said the meeting reflected Yellen's focus on the global nature of the pandemic, and her willingness to engage with a range of U.S. leaders to hammer out solutions.

Faith groups have been outspoken in urging the Biden administration to back a big boost in the International Monetary Fund's emergency reserve funds or Special Drawing Rights to help poor countries devastated by the pandemic.

Yellen has given her qualified support for an new allocation of SDRs, reversing the opposition of the Trump administration. U.S. support is critical for any boost in reserves since the United States is the IMF's largest shareholder.

She spoke on Monday with British finance minister Rishi Sunak, and both agreed a new SDR allocation could form an important part of a package of support for low-income countries.

Italy and other members of the Group of 20 major economies have called for a $500 billion issuance of new SDRs, a move akin to a central bank printing money. The IMF is currently working on a proposal to submit to its member countries this spring.

The meeting will include senior officials from the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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