Memo from Shay Bilchik
President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative
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February 14, 2001
On January 30, President Bush announced his initiative to increase the involvement of the "faith-based" community in providing services that are eligible for government funding. Recognizing the potential impact of this proposal, I want to keep you informed as this initiative develops. The White House has released only a general description and broad outlines of the President's goals. In the coming weeks, these outlines will be filled in as legislation and further details are provided. As this happens, we will keep you fully informed.
This memo summarizes information provided by the White House. As CWLA develops its position on this issue, we encourage you to pass along your own views to John Sciamanna in CWLA's Government Affairs Department. You may email John at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202/638-2952. As part of our review process, we are focusing on certain considerations, such as, how may client and provider eligibility be affected by the regulations? What is the accountability around funding? How might these initiatives affect the quality of services? How will spending on the initiative impact the funding of other existing human service programs? How will nondiscrimination and equal access be assured?
The initiative's goal is to address three general areas of concern:
- Address possible federal impediments to faith-based initiatives and programs through program, regulatory or legislative reforms.
- Expand support for faith-based groups by changing tax law and other government financing strategies, and
- Create new programs that will involve the faith-based community in new efforts to address such issues as afterschool supports for children and teens, literacy programs, and the needs of children whose parents are in prison.
"Rallying the Armies of Compassion"--The President's Actions to Date
The President issued two executive orders on January 30. The first order established an "Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" in the executive branch. The second order established liaison offices in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice. As part of this order, each department has 180 days to identify barriers to greater involvement by faith-based groups.
The President appointed political science Professor John DiLulio from the University of Pennsylvania to head up the new office. Additionally, he selected former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith to be a presidential advisor on matters dealing with expanding the role of the faith-based community.
One of the central features of the President's proposal is an expansion of the charitable choice provision in current law. The January 30 executive order directed the Department of Health and Human Services to expand on this provision, which was included in the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193). The provision allows charitable and faith-based groups to compete for funding through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Faith-based groups, for example, may provide job-training services. Since 1996, that provision has been included in other government programs, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Block Grant.
The President proposes to expand this law and add additional elements. Religious organizations would be able to incorporate religious practice and teachings if it is part of the program. Federal funds could support these programs but could not be used for purchase of religious materials such as Bibles. A secular alternative would have to be available to clients. The government would have to be neutral in its selection process of the provider, focusing on results and not the religious sponsor.
The President's initiative envisions a number of changes in the tax code to encourage charitable involvement in the delivery of human services:
The President also proposes that businesses be protected from civil liability if they donate equipment and facilities to charity.
- Expand the federal tax deduction for charitable contributions by allowing individuals who do not itemize and who use the short form to deduct these contributions. Currently 80 million taxpayers, or 70% of all tax filers, use the short form to pay their income taxes.
- Allow individuals age 59 or older to withdraw IRA funds to make a charitable contribution. This action would not subject the IRA holder to a tax or penalty.
- Encourage states to offer a $500 tax credit to be taken off the state income tax for charitable contributions. This may be one of the most controversial proposals because states would be allowed to offset the cost of these state tax credits by using TANF block grant funds.
The President also proposes to initiate several new programs or changes to existing programs:
- Open the 21st Century Community Learning Centers to faith-based providers. Currently, these school-age programs are funded by grants provided directly by the U.S. Department of Education to local school districts or education agencies. The President also proposes offering certificates to low-income parents to be used to cover the cost of afterschool programs.
How this proposal interacts with the Bush education proposal is not clear. That school reform proposal envisions combining the entire 21st Century fund with the Drug Free School Act fund to create one large block grant to states that could be used for violence prevention, drug prevention, and afterschool initiatives. Also unclear is how the voucher proposal would operate, since the current Child Care Development Fund allows states to provide child care via "certificates" or vouchers.
- Provide funds for Second Chance Maternity Group Homes. Both before and after the 1996 welfare reform law, states have funded a variation of what are called second chance homes. Under TANF, these facilities and single units support teen parents who cannot continue to live with their parents and raise their children. The President's outline does not indicate how much funding will be targeted to this initiative or whether these are new federal dollars.
- Implement new federal competitive grants that would target and support programs to assist approximately 1.5 million children who have fathers or mothers in prison, and new competitive federal grants for prerelease programs for inmates returning to the community.
- Create a Compassion Capital Fund to help existing programs expand and highlight and provide start-up financial support to "promising" new programs. This fund will use federal dollars to match private contributions.
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