The President's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal emphasizes overcoming poverty and the complementary roles and responsibilities of religious groups, community organizations and government in achieving that goal. It presents us with an opportunity to refocus the nations attention on so much poverty in a rich nation. Sadly, it has also been caught in partisan and ideological cross-fire. In many communities where disinvestment and discrimination exacerbate the problems of addiction, family disintegration, and violence, churches and community-based charities are often the only institutions still there and able to address the pervasive poverty of their neighbors. With the new demands placed on charities in light of the troubled economy, it is more important than ever to make sure that all charities, faith-based or secular, have access to the private and public resources they need to serve the least of these. Matt. 25.
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives takes the lead in promoting, strengthening and expanding grassroots and faith.based services to overcome poverty. There are similar offices at several cabinet agencies, including Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education, Labor, Agriculture and the State Departments Agency for International Development. These Offices review polices and programs to remove unnecessary obstacles that may prevent faith-based and community organizations from entering partnerships with the federal government on the same terms as other groups.
Regulatory Actions: The Administration has amended or proposed amending regulations affecting programs at several agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (Community Services Block Grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services) and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Justice, Education and Veterans Affairs. The changes are intended to clarify that religious entities are able to participate in these programs on the same basis as other organizations.
Legislative Actions: The USCCB will continue to work to pass the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act. The CARE Act provides crucial new resources to the faith.based and secular charities that serve our needy brothers and sisters, through $1.3 billion in new funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), 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 creation of a Compassion Capital Fund to provide technical assistance and capacity building for faith-based and community organizations. Last Congress the Senate passed the CARE Act (S. 476) by a vote of 95-5. The House of Representatives also passed its companion to the CARE Act, The Charitable Giving Act of 2003 (H.R. 7) by an almost unanimous vote of 408-13. While very similar to the CARE Act, the House bill did not include new SSBG funding. The White House also opposed the inclusion of the $1.3 billion in new resources in the CARE Act.
Unfortunately, the Senate and House were unable to move the bills into a conference committee, where the differences between the two would have been worked out. We expect new bills to be introduced in both Houses this year, and will work to include the full CARE Act SSBG funding in both bills and in the final product.
We also expect to see one or both Houses debate the right of religious organizations to prefer co.religionists in hiring. Preserving this long-standing ability to hire, recognized in our federal civil rights law, is a major priority for the bishops conference and other Catholic institutions.
The USCCB has been supportive of President Bushs Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal because we believe it has the potential to put new tools in the hands of those struggling daily to overcome the most difficult problems in our communities: persistent poverty, violence, substance abuse, inadequate housing, and obstacles faced by those entering the job market. We strongly support the new SSBG resources for programs serving the poor in the Senate bill.
Catholic social teaching and the principle of subsidiarity have long stressed the importance of small and intermediate.sized communities or institutions in exercising moral responsibility. We support increased resources for faith-based and community-based mediating institutions that are pursuing creative, responsive and effective solutions with the potential to help people gain independence from violence, addiction and poverty. 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, 11/86; Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, 3/95; Statement by Cardinal Roger Mahony, 2/12/01; numerous letters from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Fr. Michael Place, Catholic Health Association, and Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, Catholic Charities USA 2002-2004.
What You Can Do
- Strongly urge your Senators and Representatives to support bills, such as the CARE Act, that will encourage additional private giving to and increase Social Services Block Grant funding for faith-based and community groups that serve low-income families, abused and abandoned children, persons with disabilities, and the frail elderly.
- Urge your Senators and Representatives to support legislation that will increase the ability of faith-based and community groups to partner with the federal government in serving our neediest citizens, without giving up their identity or their ability to hire coreligionists.
- Stay in touch with USCCB for Action Alerts on new bills as they are introduced this year.
For Further Information