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Faith Based and Community Initiative Conference

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Secretary Mel Martinez

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Good morning and thank you for joining us today in Philadelphia to discuss one of President Bush's top priorities: Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Over the past two years, the President has clearly demonstrated his commitment to elevating the importance of religious values and faith-based organizations in the battle to alleviate social ills. His effort, our effort, is paying off!

I always enjoy coming to Philadelphia and I could not think of a more appropriate venue to talk about empowering the "armies of compassion" in our communities.

With the Holiday Season well underway, it is important for all Americans to look into our hearts to see how we can help those that are most in need, be they at-risk youth, the elderly, homeless individuals, substance abusers or welfare-to-work families.

America is richly blessed with a long tradition and honorable commitment to assisting families and individuals who have not fully shared in our nation's prosperity. Yet, despite a multitude of programs and renewed commitments by the Federal and state governments to battle social distress, too many of our neighbors still suffer from poverty and despair amidst our abundance.

The American people are a caring people. For, as President Bush put it:

"There is no great society which is not a caring society."

While Americans see a vital, yet limited role for government, they also want to see their Federal dollars making a real difference in the lives of the disadvantaged. And they believe that government should help the needy achieve independence and live responsible, productive lives.

They are not calling for "big government," they are calling for a more efficient and compassionate government that is a trustworthy steward of their hard-earned tax dollars.

While it is true that government has a solemn responsibility to help its citizens in need, it does not, nor can it have a monopoly on compassion.

Social entrepreneurs and dedicated volunteers are on the front lines of our nation's communities seeking to lift people's lives in ways that are beyond government's ability. Because of this, community groups and faith-based organizations have become an indispensable part of the social services network of the United States and they offer literally scores of social services to those in need.

In addition to churches and congregations, faith-based organizations include nonprofit organizations, grass roots groups and any number of neighborhood groups formed to respond to a crisis or to lead community renewal. Faith-based groups everywhere, either acting on their own or as partners with other service providers and government programs, serve the poor, and help to strengthen families and rebuild communities.

All too often, however, the government has inadvertently hampered the efforts of faith-based organizations to assist Federal agencies in carrying out their missions. Federal policy and programs have often disregarded faith-based groups as valuable resources for providing social assistance and have imposed federal, state and local-level barriers to the participation of religious organizations in social service programs. This overzealous interpretation of the separation of church and state, has only served to hurt those in our society that are most in need.

The President and I both believe that there should be an equal opportunity for all organizations - both faith-based and nonreligious - to participate as partners in Federal programs.

To strengthen the work of what President Bush terms our nation's "armies of compassion" - those civic, social, charitable and religious groups that exist in our neighborhoods - the President created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within days of taking office in January 2001.

Our colleague Jim Towey, whose job it is to work with the faith community to help make America a better place to live, heads the Office.

This Office today exists as a resource to, and an advocate for, faith-based and community organizations. Its mission is to help these groups attract resources, gain access to federal programs, and overcome hurdles when learning how to work with government.

Today, Jim and his team at the White House are responding to those needs.

They are:

  • Working closely with Congress to secure the passage of legislation that would create a level playing field upon which private and charitable groups, including religious organizations, can compete for federal funding;,
  • Removing the barriers that prevent charities from doing their important work;
  • Providing incentives for increased charitable giving in America; and
  • Committing funds to increase the capacity of our nation's grassroots leaders.

At the same time the Office was created, the Administration also opened five cabinet-level Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which today are located in the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education.

The main purpose of these Centers is to serve as a resource for groups such as yours. While we recognize that you have been at this for many years, we want to make sure that you are not discriminated against and that there is a level playing field.

Each Center is doing great work to promote the President's initiative. For example, let me share with you some examples of what is taking place:

  • At HUD, we have recently published a brochure on the "Ten Things Your Family Can Do to Promote Homeownership." The President and I are committed to increasing minority homeownership and we believe that faith-based and community organizations are well positioned to help many low-income Americans achieve this goal. The brochure serves as a guide for these groups.
  • Our Center has also initiated a pilot program to form partnerships between faith-based organizations and public housing and community development officials. Together, they assess the needs of their community and then identify opportunities for faith-based and community organizations to respond.

    Another program that I would like to mention to you today is our Colonias Initiative. The Colonias are the unplanned settlements that exist along the U.S.-Mexico border. These settlements often lack a number of fundamental services, including water, electricity, reliable roads, sanitation and other infrastructure that most Americans take for granted. Today, HUD is working to improve living conditions in the Colonias and faith-based and community organizations are a big part of our effort. We actively encourage faith-based and community organizations to be our partners in this initiative.

  • The Department of Labor, under the leadership of my colleague Secretary Chao, is providing grants which link faith-based and grassroots groups to the nation's One-Stop Career System. This is a system that connects employment, education, and training services into a coherent network of resources at the local, state, and national level. The DOL also has created the Ready4Work Initiative, which assists ex-offenders to integrate successfully back into society after their release from prison
  • At HHS, Secretary Thompson and his team have created the $30 million Compassion Capital Fund to help faith-based and community groups build capacity and improve their ability to provide social services to those in need.
  • Secretary Paige is also doing great work over at Education. He and his team held over 2,500 one-day workshops last summer, where participants from faith-based and community groups met face-to-face with folks from the White House and the cabinet Centers. Participants also received how-to courses on grant writing and saw presentations on federal grant opportunities.
  • And at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Ashcroft has established the Going Home Initiative. This is an initiative that provides grants to faith-based and community organizations to help ex-offenders become productive members of their communities. Last July, DOJ announced 68 grants totaling some $100 million to fuel this program.

Unfortunately, decades of government hostility or indifference toward faith-based institutions has pushed many groups to the margins of social-welfare policy, thereby depriving people of assistance that is often more effective and more compassionate. In fact, many community service organizations have been denied Federal resources just because they have a religious affiliation or a rabbi or priest on their board. They are shunned because they have a cross on their wall, or a mission statement inspired by their faith.

These organizations often are the lifeblood and last resort for people in need and their size can range from a struggling church soup kitchen here in a Philadelphia neighborhood to a global program such as Habitat for Humanity. Consequently, far too many of these groups have been overlooked as legitimate partners in our nation's efforts to help those left behind.

With the stroke of a pen, however, President Bush signaled to the American people that Government would no longer discriminate against groups that are guided by their belief in God as they help their neighbors. Instead, we are inviting them to the table to be part of the solution to our nation's problems.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how this effort is working at HUD.

A Catholic organization in Sioux City, South Dakota, was recently declined $63,000 in federal funding. The city demanded that it change its practice of praying before serving meals to homeless persons. The officials cited old HUD guidelines and asked that a moment of silence be substituted for the voluntary prayer. The funding was reserved while HUD reviewed the case. The grant eventually went to the organization without changing its religious practice.

This type of discrimination cannot be tolerated.

Last December, I sent a letter to every public housing authority in the country declaring that HUD's policy is not to discriminate against people of faith. That the display of religious symbols in common areas of public housing sites during faith-based celebrations should not be barred. And I have told local housing officials that HUD does not exclude faith-based organizations from federally funded public-housing programs because of their religious beliefs.

Pure and simple: We advocate an "open door policy" for faith-based organizations to provide social services to public housing residents. The content of spiritual programs should not and will not be distorted to satisfy some overzealous bureaucrat. Instead of fearing faith, government should embrace and encourage the good work of faith in our society.

Local charitable programs should be judged on one central question: do they work? If they work in part because they are anchored in faith, the government should not complain - we should encourage them.

HUD in the meantime, through our "Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives," has been breaking down the barriers to working with faith-based groups.

While we will not cross constitutional limits, we are streamlining our regulations to let these organizations keep their independence and religious identity.

The Center's objective is to make it easer for faith-based and other grassroots community organizations to join in HUD's mission. The goal is simple: we want more organizations to provide more services to help more people.

We reviewed our programs and mission with this goal in mind and found the greatest interest of these organizations to be in four areas:

  1. The first is homeless assistance -- to prevent, ease, and treat homelessness. And faith-based organizations are deeply involved in this area.
  2. The second is service assistance to public housing residents, an area that has been neglected in the past, but has tremendous potential for growth.

    Public housing residents need tools to move toward economic independence. They need training, counseling, and mentoring. Local faith-based organizations are well prepared to offer this type of assistance. And public housing authorities often have funds to back up these supportive services.

  3. A third key area is the promotion of homeownership. The Bush Administration is working hard to help families achieve the American Dream of homeownership.

    Homeownership makes people aware of their responsibility to others as well as themselves. It gives families a personal stake in their neighborhoods. It increases democratic opportunities to shape their communities. It instills a strong sense of pride and accomplishment.

    In areas with widespread homeownership, neighborhoods are stable... residents are civic-minded... schools are accountable... crime rates decline. Homeownership builds wealth for families and creates stability for children.

    President Bush and I have set an ambitious goal: we want to help create 5.5 million additional homeowners among minority families within a decade. HUD wants to enlist faith communities in achieving this goal.

  4. The Fourth area is providing affordable housing and this is the most traditional area of partnership between HUD and larger faith-based entities.

And HUD intends to respond to organizations no matter how big they are or how much experience they have. The bottom line is: if you are a faith-based or community group and you can do the job, then we will talk with you and we will help you succeed in the communities.

So there is a two-part process here: we must remove regulatory and administrative barriers to participation and we must support capacity-building activities for faith-based and community groups. Both parts are important to achieve our goal of finding efficient and cost-effective ways to help the most people possible.

The goal, whether at HUD or another agency across town, is to help expand society's capacity to respond with compassion to human needs.

We are seeking compassionate results, not just compassionate intentions.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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