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White House Conference on
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

Remarks as prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez

Portland, Oregon
Thursday, June 26, 2003

Good morning. Thank you for such a kind introduction [Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives].

I am humbled to stand in front of such a committed group of community leaders. I admire the work you do, and especially the fact that for you all, the number of people you help - rather than the amount of dollars you spend - is how you measure success.

Without you, the work we do in Washington would be inconsequential. You all take the policies we enact, and the dollars we grant, and turn them into real results. For the people in this country who need a helping hand, you provide hope. You are decorated soldiers in what the President calls the "armies of compassion."

It is without question that you all are an indispensable part of the social services network in the United States. Acting on your own or in partnership with other providers and government programs, you offer scores of social services to those in need.

And because your organizations are part of the community, and so close to those in need, you are able to touch people's lives in ways that are beyond the capabilities of government alone.

At HUD, we rely upon hundreds of grassroots organizations to take the grant dollars we make available each year and put them to work bettering their communities.

Whether your organization is secular or rooted in faith, our Administration is deeply committed to boosting your ability to serve your fellow citizens. In fact, the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative is one of his top priorities� and has been since his first days in office.

Despite the successes we have achieved together, we know there are times when an organization seeking federal support to extend its reach instead finds barriers blocking the way. This is particularly true for religious groups; many have fallen victim to federal policies that overzealously interpret the separation of church and state.

These barriers are mostly unintentional. The end result, however, is that they prevent organizations from partnering with us in carrying out their missions� and serve only to hurt those in our society who most need help.

Every organization - whether faith-based or non-religious - should have an equal opportunity to participate as partners in federal programs. To help ensure that they do, the President created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Earlier, you heard Jim Towey describe his work as Director of the White House Office. He and his staff are doing a great job putting the President's ideas to work in communities across the country.

The Director of HUD's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is Ryan Streeter, and I hope you have the opportunity to meet him today. Ryan recently came to us from the White House. Through his experience working for Mayor Goldsmith in Indianapolis, he understands the process that local organizations must go through in order to receive federal funding. He has also written and published studies dealing with the relationship between faith-based organizations and public policy.

Ryan has put this hands-on and intellectual experience to good use at HUD. He and his staff are coordinating a Department-wide effort to empower local organizations to help neighbors in need. We are doing this by creating new partnership opportunities� reforming our regulations� educating would-be partners� and reaching out directly to local governments.

This is happening not only at HUD, but within each of the Cabinet Departments that hosts a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

I want to describe in some detail the steps the Administration is taking to make us more accessible to you.

First of all, at the same time we are reaching out to strengthen old partnerships, we are also forging new ones. Many of these new partners are long-time community stewards who are already successfully providing important services, yet have never received federal support.

For example, HUD is rolling out a new program that I am delighted to be announcing here in Portland. Our "Reaching the Dream" initiative will encourage faith-based and community organizations across America to offer homebuyer education. It will also link them with local partners who can provide affordable homeownership opportunities to first-time buyers in their communities.

We have chosen Portland as the first of three cities to participate in the "Reaching the Dream" project. Over the next several weeks, HUD will identify between 15 and 20 faith-based and community organizations here to participate in this exciting effort.

The project is generating strong community and private-sector support. Already, our partners include the Portland Development Commission, the Portland Housing Center, and local lenders. They each stand ready to help more Portland families realize the American Dream of homeownership.

The President and I are committed to increasing homeownership - especially among African-American and Hispanic families. For the second year in a row, President Bush declared June as National Homeownership Month, and we have spent the past 26 days traveling the country, bringing information and resources to the people who need them the most.

The benefits of homeownership for families are truly profound. The latest State of the Nation's Housing report, released last week by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, found that American homeowners' net wealth grew by $405 billion in 2002.

As a result, the median homeowning household had a net wealth of nearly $172,000. By contrast, the median net wealth for renters was $4,810 - 35 times less.

So much of a family's wealth is passed down. If we help more African-American and Hispanics become homeowners, then they will begin to accumulate the assets that will improve their families' lives for generations to come.

But it is not just the families themselves who benefit. The Harvard study also found that the recent boom in refinancing - spurred by record low interest rates - helped pump almost $200 billion into the economy in 2002 alone.

When you consider the benefits of homeownership for families, communities and the nation as a whole, you can see why it is such a big priority for this Administration. And we recognize that you all play a crucial role - especially on the local level - in helping more families and communities enjoy the benefits of the American Dream.

Last year, during National Homeownership Month, HUD published a brochure titled "Ten Things Your Faith Community Can Do to Encourage Homeownership." It describes the opportunities that are available to faith-based and community organizations that want to make homeownership possible for others.

This year, we are making a new pamphlet available to you: "Five Steps to Becoming a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency." It is aimed at helping faith-based and community groups understand the steps you need to take to qualify for our housing counseling grants program.

Both brochures are available on HUD's Web site.

This Administration and its partners have also taken on the challenge of improving living conditions in the colonias. Colonias are unplanned settlements that are found along the U.S.-Mexico border. These areas often lack fundamental services, including potable water, electricity, reliable roads, sanitation, and other infrastructure that most Americans take for granted.

Although the problems in the colonias are immense and will not easily be resolved, HUD is already making a difference there - thanks to the faith-based and community organizations that have joined in partnership with us. We are actively encouraging more of them to come aboard.

As you know, the Faith-Based and Community Initiative extends beyond HUD. Government-wide, faith-based and community groups are increasingly being treated as equal partners.

To take just one example: In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush announced a three-year, 600-million-dollar federal treatment initiative to help addicted Americans find treatment from the most effective providers, including faith-based and community organizations. Faith has the transforming power to lift up those lacking hope and empower them to live successful, more fulfilling lives.

Under the President's initiative, government will enable this wonderful process to happen, rather than hindering it.

Clearly, we are seeing a new willingness on the part of the federal government to reach beyond the typical partnerships of the past to address difficult social problems. We estimate that through the President's initiative, faith-based and community organizations will have an opportunity to tap into more than $8 billion in federal funding that was, to this point, beyond their reach.

We have proposed new regulations for eight key HUD programs that will go a long way toward bringing discrimination against faith-based organizations to an end. No longer will faith-based organizations be told they do not qualify for these programs simply because of their religious character. Nor will they be subjected to unnecessary and unwarranted restrictions. Like everyone else, they will be judged by what they do, not who they are.

Decades of indifference toward faith-based institutions have denied certain groups the opportunity to partner with the federal government. Service organizations have been turned away just because they have a religious affiliation, or a rabbi or priest on their board, or the word "God" in their mission statements.

Not long ago, a faith-based nonprofit in Dallas that provides a wide range of food, clothing and job services to more than 16,000 individuals every year was told by local officials that they were ineligible for HUD funds because their mission statement claims they are committed to the "God-given potential" of people in need. The organization withdrew itself from consideration for funding because of the hassle.

This is not right, and our hope and plan is to change this.

I wish this were an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it is not. Too frequently we see that confusion over HUD's regulations and a bias against faith-based groups within HUD have resulted in good groups not getting funded.

The President attacked this problem directly last December by signing an Executive Order stating that eligible social service organizations will compete on an equal footing for federal financial assistance; government would no longer discriminate against those who are guided by their faith.

We will not cross constitutional limits, but federal departments are streamlining our regulations to let faith-based organizations keep their independence and religious identity. We want to make it easer for faith-based and other community organizations to join in HUD's mission. The goal is simple: we want more effective organizations like yours helping more people.

Instead of fearing faith, government should embrace and encourage the good work of faith in our society. I myself have benefited from the good, honest work that faith-based organizations do on behalf of those in need.

Local charitable programs should be judged on one central question: do they work? If they do, and if they happen to work in part because they are anchored in faith, then the government ought to welcome them with open arms.

The Administration is also helping interested groups navigate the grant-making process through educational efforts that tell them exactly what they need to do in order to participate in national programs.

Secretary Paige is doing this successfully at the Education Department. His team held workshops last summer at which participants from faith-based and community groups met with representatives from the White House and the five faith-based Centers. Participants learned about the federal grant opportunities awaiting them, and how to write an effective grant proposal. This is critical information that was not always so easily accessible in the past.

As a final step, we are working closely with locally elected leaders and administrators to show how their communities could benefit by integrating grassroots organizations into the delivery of services.

Public housing presents exactly this kind of opportunity. The residents of public housing need training, counseling, mentoring, and other tools to move toward economic independence. Public housing authorities often have funds to back up these supportive services. Local faith-based organizations have the expertise to offer this type of assistance.

In many cases, they simply need to be asked.

No matter how big or small the organization� no matter its level of experience in competing for federal grants� no matter its religious affiliation or secular nature, we want every potential partner to have the opportunity to compete for federal resources. If a faith-based or community organization wants to work with us - and you can do the job - then we will do everything we can to help you succeed.

In this way, we will provide the best possible service to those who lack hope. And we will help to expand society's capacity to respond with compassion to human needs.

Thank you for your commitment to America's communities. We are a better and stronger nation because of it.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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