Action on the faith-based initiative in the Senate has stalled in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the delivery of a letter containing anthrax to the office of Senator Thomas Daschle. The attention of Congress has necessarily been focused on responding to these new threats, while attempting at the same time to complete appropriations legislation required to fund the government in 2002.
In July, the House of Representatives passed one faith-based initiative bill, H.R. 7, that would:
- expand charitable choice to several social service programs;
- give non-itemizers a tax deduction for a portion of their charitable contributions (a proposal long supported by the Conference);
- allow individuals over 70 to make charitable contributions from Individual Retirement Accounts without incurring tax liability;
- provide liability protection for certain corporate in-kind charitable donations; and
- make limited improvements to the Individual Development Accounts program.
The anthrax contamination seriously disrupted business on Capitol Hill just as staff from the offices of the Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were discussing with White House staff the possibility of taking up the faith-based initiative in two steps in the Senate.
The first step would be a package, based on two bills already introduced by Senators Lieberman and Santorum (S. 592 and S.1300), containing measures to assist faith-based and other charitable organizations through tax provisions, such as the charitable deduction for non-itemizers, and through funding for programs such as a Compassion Capital fund to provide technical assistance to small charities. It could perhaps include resources for other programs that can be used by states to provide needed social services, often through non-profit partners. Senate sponsors would introduce and attempt to pass such a bill this session.
The more controversial charitable choice provisions, as well as how to address the controversial issue of hiring and employment practices of faith-based organizations, would be addressed in a second bill next year.
At this time, it is uncertain how long the Senate will remain in session and whether there will be enough time for them to turn to any significant domestic issues beside the economic stimulus plan.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal and legislation to advance its goals such as H.R. 7, 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. The Conference is open to a two-step strategy in the Senate and will review any proposed Senate legislation according to whether it will help those trying to strengthen their communities.
In the principle of subsidiarity, Catholic social teaching has long stressed the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions in exercising moral responsibility. Faith-based mediating institutions that are pursuing creative, responsive and effective solutions with the potential to help real people gain independence from violence, addiction and poverty should be allowed to seek federal assistance on the same terms as other groups, without changing their fundamental nature.
See Economic Justice For All, November, 1986; Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, March, 1995; Statement by His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony Archbishop of Los Angeles and Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee,. February 12, 2001; Letters from His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony Archbishop of Los Angeles and Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee, to Representatives J.C. Watts and Tony Hall, June 11, 2001.
For more information contact Kathy Curran at 202-541-3188 or email@example.com.