Background: Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) attempted to bring the CARE Act to the Senate floor on Thursday, November 14 through a unanimous consent request but they were blocked by a handful of Senate Democrats, all but ending the possibility that the bill and its billions to help the needy -- will become law.
The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act (S. 1924) would have provided crucial new resources to the faith-based and secular charities that serve our needy brothers and sisters, through provisions that include: Tax-code changes to allow non-itemizers to take a tax deduction for a portion of their charitable contributions (a proposal long supported by the Conference); and $1.3 billion in new funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program and the Second Chance/Maternity Group Homes to enable religious and secular charities to provide needed social services. The USCCB and Catholic Charities USA endorsed the CARE Act (see joint letters on our website at www.usccb.org/sdwp).
Senators Lieberman and Santorum had negotiated a plan with the leadership of both parties before the election break, to bring the bill to the floor and to allow debate on four Democratic amendments and one Republican amendment. The Democratic amendments, proposed by Senator Reed (D-RI), related to charitable choice, an issue outside the scope of the CARE Act. Senators Santorum and Lieberman intentionally crafted the CARE Act to provide needed assistance to charities while remaining silent on charitable choice, so that a potentially contentious debate over issues related to charitable choice would not be allowed to stop aid to charities that help Americans in need. However they were willing to have a debate on these amendments so that the bill could move forward.
At the last minute, however, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) insisted that three additional amendments be considered and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) entered a formal objection to the unanimous consent request, effectively killing the deal and blocking the bill from coming to the floor.
While there is still a slim chance the CARE Act could be offered as an amendment to another bill, there is a strong push to end the lame-duck session this week or next, which means there will be few if any opportunities to do so. The CARE Act could also be reintroduced in the next Congress, but it is far more likely that instead sections of the bill will be made part of other bills for example, the tax provisions could be added to a broader tax bill. Unfortunately, however, prospects are gloomy for the $1.3 billion in new SSBG money. Given the worsening economy, tight federal budget situation and changing priorities in Washington, passage of the CARE Act this year was probably the last chance to get new resources for programs that help the poor.
Action Requested: Call Senators Santorum and Lieberman and thank them for their hard work this year trying to pass the CARE Act, and also call to thank the CARE Act's cosponsors. Urge them all to find new opportunities next year to achieve the good goals of the CARE Act, especially increased SSBG funding. Call Senators Reed, Levin, Durbin and Daschle and express your disappointment that the attempt to use the CARE Act as a vehicle to debate partisan and ideological differences blocked new SSBG funding for groups that serve the most needy among us.
CARE Act cosponsors: Allard (CO), Bayh (IN), Bennett (UT), Bond, (MO) Brownback (KS), Carnahan (MO), Cleland (GA), Clinton (NY), Cochran (MS), Crapo (ID), DeWine (OH), Domenici (NM), Frist (TN), Hagel (NE), Hatch (UT), Hutchinson, T (AR), Hutchison, K (TX), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Lugar (IN), Miller (GA), Nelson (FL), Santorum (PA), Sessions (AL), G. Smith (OR), Torricelli (NJ), Warner (VA)
Our Position: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports President Bush"s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal and legislation to support faith-based and community organizations because we believe they will put new tools in the hands of those struggling daily to overcome the most difficult problems in our neighborhoods and communities: persistent poverty, violence, substance abuse, inadequate housing, and obstacles faced by those who are entering the job market. Faith-based groups should be allowed to participate in federally-funded programs to meet social needs on the same terms as other groups, without changing their fundamental nature or facing discrimination because of their religious identity. See Economic Justice For All, November, 1986; Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, March, 1995; and letters from USCCB, including joint letters with Catholic Charities USA dated February 26, 2002 and June 5, 2002.
For more information, contact Kathy Curran at 202-541-3188, email@example.com.