Faith Based Funding Article
- Last update: May 8, 2005 at 9:11 AM
Most faith-based grants went to the usual groups
Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondent
Published May 8, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Since the White House's Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives started a neighborhood-level grant program over a year ago, more
than $730,000 has flowed to dozens of grass-roots poverty groups in
Minnesota that never got federal funds before.
Still, according to numbers just released by the White House, the new money
is but a small part of the $18.5 million in federal grants that went last
year to 36 traditional church-affiliated charities in Minnesota, many of
which have been getting federal money for decades.
Of that, less than 5 percent went to non-Christian faith groups, much of it
in grants to Jewish Family and Children's Services and Elim Transitional
Moreover, much of the money that the White House characterizes as
faith-based went to charities such as Lutheran Social Service, Catholic
Charities and other large organizations that say their government funding
had nothing to do with the White House's initiative.
The White House report counts grants made by seven federal agencies to
groups with religious names or affiliations. But in some cases, the groups
do not consider their social service contracts -- for programs such as
housing and HIV/AIDS prevention -- to be "faith-based."
Some traditional church-affiliated social service providers say the
faith-based initiative might even have cost them money, as the White House
reaches out to smaller, community-based groups.
"There has been very little new money," said Gary Reierson, president of the
Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, which works with small religious
and community groups such as St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in
south Minneapolis, which got a $7,400 grant last year for its prison
"It was a big deal for us, because we're so small," said the Rev. Marchelle
Hallman, pastor of St. James, Minnesota's oldest black church.
But the overall distribution of money to church-affiliated groups in
Minnesota shows how far the White House has to go to fulfill two basic
promises made by President Bush: that the faith-based initiative would reach
"beyond those great, courageous faith-based programs," such as the Salvation
Army and Catholic Charities, and that "the faith-based initiative is not
about a single faith."
White House officials call the program a success, even if Congress has
snagged on the issue of church-state separation, which has kept Minnesota's
best-known practitioner of religious charity, Mary Jo Copeland, out of the
hunt for federal money.
"I don't like to take the government restrictions that come with it," said
Copeland, whose Sharing and Caring Hands shelter in Minneapolis has been
cited by Bush as a model for private, faith-based compassion.
Nationally, federal funding for groups with religious affiliations reached
$2 billion last year, up from $1.2 billion the year before. Minnesota's
$18.5 million represents an increase of 35 percent over 2003.
But at the same time, traditional faith-based charities, which provide the
bulk of services performed by faith groups in Minnesota, say the White House
initiative to increase funding for faith groups has made little difference
For example, a number of Lutheran Social Service agencies in Minnesota
received a total of $1.5 million last year, according to the White House.
Much of the money went to programs such as street outreach, HIV/AIDS
prevention and transitional living centers.
"What's peculiar is to reframe that as faith-based-initiative money," said
Mark Peterson, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Service, the state's
largest religiously affiliated charity.
Catholic Charities of Minneapolis and St. Paul received nearly $1.3 million
in federal grants last year. But despite "the initial excitement and buzz,"
none of it came from the White House's faith-based grant program, according
to spokeswoman Mary Beth Hanson.
The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, with 45 senior centers in
Minnesota, got more than $4.4 million for a new housing complex in Inver
Grove Heights, the largest allotment in the state.
"Do we receive money because we're a faith-based organization? Probably
not," said spokesman Mark Dickerson. "It's because we're the nation's
largest not-for-profit organization providing senior housing and long-term
care," he said.
Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, said that's as it should be. "The president wants the focus to
be on results, not religion," he said.
Towey, who was once Mother Teresa's lawyer, said it would be
unconstitutional to grant money based on faith affiliation alone. Nor can it
be used for religious purposes. The thrust of the White House effort, he
said, has been simply not to exclude social service providers because of
their religious identities.
That means removing barriers to a lot of small groups such as St. James
church in south Minneapolis. "You're seeing a lot of new players beginning
to break through," Towey said.
Much of the new faith-based money in Minnesota has gone though the Minnesota
Council of Churches, one of only 10 "intermediary" organizations in the
nation that coordinate "compassion capital" grants to first-time recipients.
This year the council has announced $387,500 in grants to 31 Twin Cities
Last May the council channeled $342,600 to 40 groups, many of them
interdenominational or secular community groups. Of that, a bit less than
$30,000 went to non-Christian faith groups, including Masjid An-Nur, an
Islamic organization that runs a health group in north Minneapolis, and a
nutritional awareness program sponsored by Kenesseth Israel, a Jewish
congregation in St. Louis Park.
Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., who helped put Copeland onto the national stage
with Bush, says that while he'd like to see the faith-based grants spread
out across a wider spectrum, it's been a good start.
"At the very least, we're finally ending discrimination against people of
faith who help people in need," he said. "I think that's a huge
Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@...
© Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.