The President's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal, with its emphasis on overcoming poverty and its affirmation of the complementary roles and responsibilities of religious groups, community organizations and government, presents us with a new opportunity to refocus the nation"s attention on the needs of poor people and the call to meet the moral challenge posed by so much poverty in the midst of so much affluence in our land. 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 the aftermath of September 11, 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 less fortunate among us.
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: One of President Bush"s first acts upon taking office was to establish a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to take the lead in promoting, strengthening and expanding grassroots and faith-based services. The Office works with federal agencies, Congress, and state and local governments as well as private philanthropies, the nonprofit sector, businesses, America's many faith communities, and neighborhood groups, to find ways to support a renewed commitment to community service. The President has also instructed five cabinet agencies " Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education and Labor " to review their 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. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives oversees and coordinate these reviews.
H.R. 7 " The Community Solutions Act: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported H.R. 7, a bill to implement parts of the faith-based initiative, co-sponsored by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH). The House of Representatives passed H.R. 7 on July 19, 2001 by a vote of 233-198. The Community Solutions Act builds on the President"s initiative by expanding charitable choice to several federal social service programs while protecting the religious freedom of both organizations and individuals; giving non-itemizers a tax deduction for a portion of their charitable contributions (a proposal long supported by the Conference); allowing individuals over 70 to make charitable contributions from Individual Retirement Accounts without incurring tax liability; providing liability protection for certain corporate in-kind charitable donations; and making limited improvements to the Individual Development Accounts program.
"Charitable choice" refers to allowing religious organizations to participate in government programs on the same terms as other organizations, without altering their religious character or giving up their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 relating to the employment of members of the same religion. This aspect of H.R. 7 generated much controversy and ideological and partisan debate during the House consideration of the bill.
S. 1924 " The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act: In the aftermath of September 11 and with the downturn in the economy, the immediate focus of supporters of the faith-based and communities initiatives proposal turned to passing legislation that will provide crucial resources to the faith-based and secular charities that serve our needy brothers and sisters. We support these efforts. Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) worked closely with President Bush to develop a package of measures to assist faith-based and other charitable organizations, and on February 9, 2002 introduced the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, S. 1924. Among the CARE Act"s provisions: tax-code changes to encourage private charitable giving, including a more generous charitable deduction for non-itemizers than the one in H.R. 7; funding for a Compassion Capital fund to provide technical assistance to small charities; and significant additional resources 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 Senate bill does not include the more controversial charitable choice provisions of the House bill, leaving that issue to be addressed later. Both the USCCB and Catholic Charities USA support S. 1924. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to mark-up the CARE Act the week of June 10.
The USCCB supports President Bush"s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal and legislation to advance its goals such as S. 1924 and 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.
Catholic social teaching and its 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 real 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, 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; letters from His Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington and Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee, and Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, President, Catholic Charities USA, dated December 5, 2001, February 26, 2002, April 12, 2002 and June 5, 2002.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Before the Senate Finance Committee mark-up: Urge Senate Finance Committee members to mark-up the CARE Act as soon as possible, and to make sure the bill's provisions on the non-itemizer charitable deduction, the Compassion Capital Fund, and SSBG are preserved as called for in the bipartisan proposal worked out by Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley. If your Senators are not on the Committee, urge them to weigh in with Committee Chairman Max Baucus or Ranking Member Charles Grassley with the same message. For more information, see the June 6 Action Alert.
- After the Senate Finance Committee mark-up: Stay tuned for updates from SDWP on the next steps for the CARE Act.
For more information, or to find out if the mark-up has occurred, check out the Committee's web site, www.senate.finance.gov or contact Kathy Curran, 202-541-3188, firstname.lastname@example.org.