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Secretary Cuomo's Remarks at the
New York Faith-Based Conference

June 15, 2000

This nation is doing extraordinarily well economically. We are constantly inundated with the stories of the economic progress that this country is making. You can't open a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing some great tale of how well the stock market is doing, and a story of phenomenal wealth - who became a billionaire, started up a dot-com and now two weeks later has gone on the stock market and bought a company they're so rich.

And it us true. The nation is doing very well economically, by and large. But we have to be careful not to substitute or assume those indicators of economic progress are synonymous with the success of our nation. Because, when you think about it, they're two very different things - how much wealth are you accumulating for some, versus how are you doing as a nation.

Sometimes one becomes the substitute for the other. But that's not how we would judge people, how we would judge society. When we ask someone, "What kind of person is he?" Well, he has $50,000 in the bank. Good. But that doesn't tell me about him. Tell me about his soul, tell me about his values. Tell me about his essence, his core.

We've gotten caught up in these great stories of economic success - of some. Of some. But at the same time, when you reflect on the deeper value, and question the overall progress of the nation, it is a very different story.

As a way to prompt this, in Washington I said I'm going to rename the Department of Housing and Urban Development the Department of Justice. They said you can't do this. Why not? Well there's already a Department of Justice, the Attorney-General would be offended if you named your department after her department.

I said, then we would have to clarify. There is a department of justice but really that is a department of criminal justice. Criminal justice -- we will enforce these criminal laws and then we will put you in jail if you violate these criminal laws. That is one form of justice.

And that by the way we do very well -- enforcing criminal laws. We have more people in our prisons than any other industrialized nation.

That form of justice we do very well, we excel at. The prosecution, we do very well at. We lock up a lot of people,

But there are other forms of justice as well MLK taught us that. The Good Book taught us that. Bobby Kennedy taught us that. JFK taught us that.

There are other forms of justice. How about economic justice? How about social justice? How about racial justice? And if you say justice is really the definition of a nation's success, a people's success - are you a just people - and you look at how we're doing on that scale, then you get a very different picture of this nation's success.

Maybe that's why we choose not to look at it. Maybe that's why we choose not to talk about. Maybe that's why we choose to say, what did the stock market do today. What did the DJ do today? Market was up 100 points - Great for that two fifths of Americans who are even in the stock market.

But if you look at how we're doing on the broader scale, we have so much further to go. We have economic justice - you have millionaires in history, but you also have the greatest income inequality in history.

You still have 1 in 5 children living in poverty, and in this great city of New York, where we all celebrate, how well this city is doing. When was the last time you heard someone say - yes, but 40% of our children sleep in poverty, twice the national average. In New York City- just miles from the great Wall Street stock exchange that is making so much.

But we don't talk about the social justice indices. We don't talk about gun violence, about 12 children dying every day from guns. We were supposed to end this scourge 30 years ago - with disproportionate deaths among those at the lowest end of the income scale.

But we don't talk about that. We talk about the highest homeownership rate in history -- but we don't talk about the 600,000 people who are homeless.

We certainly don't like to talk about racial justice issues. We like to think that that's a memory of the past, that we're beyond that, that it's a fight that we won. But it's with us today.

We did a case at the Department of Housing �we sued the KKK in Pennsylvania, the Grand Dragon. You saw him on the screen. They have a cable show now, the White Forum, where they go on TV in their costumes of hate and cowardice, and preach their hatred on TV. That's today that that happened. It's not 1950, 1960. That's today. The KKK in Pennsylvania -- not Mississippi, not Georgia -- 50 miles outside of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

It is with us today. We rebuilt dozens of churches that were burned - African American churches. I went to Mississippi, I saw the churches. It was not a coincidence that they were black churches. It was not a coincidence that they were black churches.

We have so much more to do. That's why we're talking with you today.

Because if we're going to do this, now is the time. It's no longer the time to talk about it, or lament about. It is time to do something about it, and act on it.

All the excuses are gone. There were so many reasons for so many years why we couldn't do it.

The government didn't have the money. There was a big deficit All those years we were banging on the door of the Federal government. We said please give us some assistance. But there was always a reason why the federal government was pulling back.

Well now you have the greatest surplus in history, thanks to President Clinton. There is no longer an economic excuse. We're in the new millennium. We are in the year 2000. We know how to do these things. We must demand responsibility from every portion of the society.

The government certainly has a responsibility. The federal government certainly has a responsibility. The state government certainly has a responsibility. And we must demand accountability from each one.

The private sector certainly has responsibility. You want to take billions of dollars of wealth out of the society, you must be prepared to put something back. And we must demand that equity.

But the non-profit and faith0based sector also has a role to play, as active partners at the table. This is not a church state issue. We're beyond that discussion, we're beyond that simple rubric where we said, well that's a church and you can't do business with a church - and that's an issue of church-state separation. We do business all day long.

At HUD we know how to separate state and religion. Separate corporation, no proselytizing. We know how to do that. We've been doing it for decades. We need to do it more. We need to do it on a broader scale. And we need to do it better. But church and state can work together and I submit to you that we must work together if we're going to do this.

We need the churches, the temples the mosques not just preaching but acting the Gospel in their communities. Be a change agent. We have done great work in housing, in traditional housing. Basically senior housing is where we do the most work together. That's a great beginning point - but only a beginning point.

I want to see the non-profits and the faith-based community come in not just as housers, but as economic development agents in their community. As counseling agencies in their community, social service agencies in their communities, mentoring agencies in their communities.

In a survey of churches in Washington DC, 89% of faith-based groups reported doing some kind of social service or economic development work in their communities - but only 4% receive government funding.

Let's build those partnerships. Government has the funding. Not all the funding, but together with the energy and ability of the faith-based community, that's a potent combination. That's TNT. Put those two things together and we can really make a difference in communities.

We do today at HUD about $750 million every year with faith-based and community-based organizations. We've been working at this extraordinarily hard. Today we set a new goal for next year - by next year we have to do $1 billion with faith-based and community organizations all across the country.

We're going to set aside $10 million to have conferences just like this one - training community and faith based organizations how to go out to do these things. We know how to do housing. Let's go out and learn how to do economic development. social services. And we will work with you to do the training, work with you to qualify for the federal funding so you can go out and rebuild your community because that's the only way it's going to happen.

And my last point is this.

There are so many things out there today that are working to divide us. For all our success, it seems like there are more and more things pulling us part.

All this great technology -- and now we've created a digital divide between the haves and have nots. And the information superhighway is a beautiful thing if you're not on it. But if you're not on it we will leave you behind at a 100 miles per hour.

We have a tremendous housing gap in this country - worse than ever before. Great high-income mansions and less affordable housing than ever before.

We have an education gap. The richer schools have the these great private schools, giving their kids the best tools at the youngest ages. And the poorer school districts are failing their children. Go to school on the poor side of town, they don't even have a basketball net.

We are being pulled apart. We're saying let's build community. But community is not a building. It is not a structure. That doesn't build community. It's really a spirit, it's a state of mind, it's a belief, it's an energy. It's a thought that says we're all connected. That is your gospel. That is your message.

We in government can build the building. But only you can put the soul and the spirit and the energy into it. Only you can have people believing in themselves once again. And in each other once again. That they can come back. That their community can come back. That their family can come back.

That's the magic that you bring to the equation. That's why this partnership is so potent.

Let's take the first step today. Learn how to use these programs. It's going to sound like alphabet soup at first. Learn the programs - we'll work with you to do it. Let's seize this moment in time.

With all this success, and reach out for success as a nation. And truly bring this nation up to the level of success that we all hope and pray for. Together we're going to do it.

Thank you very much.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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