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Faith Based Funding Article

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  • Craig Brooks
    Last update: May 8, 2005 at 9:11 AM Most faith-based grants went to the usual groups Kevin Diaz Star Tribune Washington Bureau Correspondent Published May 8,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8 8:51 AM
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      Last update: May 8, 2005 at 9:11 AM
      Most faith-based grants went to the usual groups
      Kevin Diaz
      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
      Housing.

      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
      ministry program.

      "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
      to them.

      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
      groups.

      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
      accomplishment."

      Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@...

      © Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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