Statement of John Weicher
April 28, 2003
Assistant Secretary for Housing - Federal Housing Commissioner
before the Committee on Financial Services
U.S. House of Representatives
Oxley, Ranking Member Frank, Distinguished Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to join you this afternoon to discuss
a major initiative of President Bush and Secretary Martinez: their
commitment to battling social distress by redefining the role of
government in helping Americans in need. Because of our long history
of partnering with faith-based and community organizations to provide
housing and other important services, the initiative is especially
relevant to the work of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
am here on behalf of the Department to present our views on the
role of faith-based organizations. With me are Ryan Streeter, Director
of the HUD Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and
HUD Chief of Staff Frank Jimenez. With the Committee's permission,
I will be deferring to them as the principal persons with the most
detailed knowledge on this subject.
The Administration's goals are clear and achievable: to provide
the best possible quality in government-funded service; to support
the essential work of all charities, whether secular or religious,
regardless of their size; and to ensure a level playing field that
embraces every group or organization working to transform lives
through their compassionate service.
community caretakers fulfill a critical need in this country. As
President Bush said in October of last year, "An America without
faith-based organizations caring for people in need is an America
of the President's first official acts was to sign Executive Order
13199, which created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives. He directed the Office to lead a "determined attack
on need" by strengthening and expanding the role of faith-based
and community organizations in addressing the nation's social problems.
The Office reaches into every community of need, while giving special
attention to homeless individuals, prisoners, at-risk youth, addicts,
impoverished senior citizens, and families moving from welfare to
Executive Order 13198, the President created Centers for Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives in seven federal agencies, including HUD.
The HUD Center coordinates the work of the entire Department as
we seek to eliminate the obstacles that hinder faith-based and community
groups from competing for federal funds on an equal footing with
now realize that some of our programs operate under obstacles are
unnecessary and persistent. In far too many instances, they have
caused the federal government to ignore or impede the efforts of
faith-based and community organizations to serve individuals in
need. We are taking steps to correct these issues.
order of the President, HUD - and the six other agencies that comprise
the faith-based and community initiative - conducted exhaustive
reviews of our internal regulations to identify the barriers to
the participation of faith-based and other community organizations
in our programs. We discovered a number of common obstacles, the
most frequent being a prevailing perception among federal officials
that close collaboration with religious organizations is legally
Some federal programs essentially bar religious organizations from
applying for funding, creating a second barrier to partnering with
HUD. For instance, funds under HUD's HOME program, which communities
around the country use to construct affordable housing, may not
be granted to religious organizations "for any activity including
obstacles that we have identified, including inappropriate and excessive
restrictions on religious activities, create another barrier that
restricts faith-based organizations from receiving HUD funding.
A recent case involved the St. Francis House homeless shelter in
Sioux Falls, South Dakota - a Catholic facility that provides meals,
shelter, and other services to homeless persons. The shelter was
denied a HUD grant simply because voluntary prayers were offered
before meals. The Department informed the city that there was no
violation, and that funds could appropriately be used for St. Francis
House, and this was done.
another example, HUD regulations governing Community Development
Block Grants and other programs require religious organizations
to agree to not only avoid giving religious instruction or counseling
but also to certify that they will exert no religious influence
at all in providing federally funded assistance. Other organizations
are not required to make similar certifications, and such a requirement
unnecessarily reflects an unwarranted presumption that, without
provisions specially aimed at faith-based organizations, these organizations
will fail to follow the law. Moreover, such vague language may have
the effect of chilling the participation of many faith-based providers
in HUD programs. These providers will have no intention of using
government funds to support religious activities, yet they are uncertain
what these unclear regulatory phrases mean. Again, we are taking
steps to correct these problems.
Bush and Secretary Martinez are working to tear down the barriers
that lead to unjust discrimination.
President took decisive action when he signed Executive Order 13279
on December 12 of last year. The Order sets out clear principles
ensuring that all eligible social service organizations are able
to compete on an equal footing for federal financial assistance.
Under the Order, federal programs must be implemented in such a
way that they do not violate the Establishment Clause and the Free
Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
is actively implementing the Order to ensure that our policies and
programs create a level playing field for faith-based organizations.
In doing so, we are improving the ability of these groups to work
with us in expanding homeownership, increasing the supply of affordable
housing, ending chronic homelessness, and strengthening communities.
am pleased to report that we are making notable progress in removing
the barriers to participation in HUD's grant programs.
a first step, Secretary Martinez is actively encouraging the participation
of grassroots organizations in all grant applications. These organizations
touch many lives on the local level, and yet are frequently overshadowed
during the grant-making process by their larger and more visible
cousins. We are ensuring that grassroots groups have every opportunity
to expand their reach and touch more lives through their good works.
Super Notice of Funding Availability (SuperNOFA) now clearly states
the eligibility of faith-based and other community organizations.
We are conducting web casts specifically designed to educate these
providers about the SuperNOFA and the application process. We have
installed a toll-free telephone number to help them understand the
application process. And we continue to make grant applications
easier to understand for potential new partners by removing instances
of duplication, mixed messages, and other problems that put first-time
applicants at a disadvantage.
is key to helping faith-based and other community organizations
successfully navigate the grant-making process. HUD is reaching
out to these groups through educational initiatives that communicate
an important message: we welcome their partnership and will give
them the fullest opportunity permitted by law to compete for federal
ensure that this message is heard, we have appointed faith-based
and community liaisons in each of HUD's 10 regional offices and
all 81 field offices. Their job is to reach out to faith-based and
other community groups that lack experience in working with HUD.
HUD is including faith-based and community initiative components
in many of our conferences and seminars, and HUD staff appear regularly
at conferences to educate community leaders.
we have more than 5,000 faith-based and other community organizations
in our database. We plan to reach thousands more this year through
mailings, informing them of HUD resources and tools that would be
of interest to them.
is coupling educational outreach with administrative reforms that
are tearing down the barriers to effective partnerships with America's
community of faith.
have reviewed each of HUD's major program offices to determine the
degree to which they do or do not comply with the requirements of
Executive Order 13279. Specific programs are currently undergoing
a detailed review; our goal is to remove the undue burden often
placed on grassroots organizations, particularly those who are newcomers
examples I have cited represent just a sampling of our efforts.
In the months ahead, we will continue working to make it easer for
faith-based and other grassroots community organizations to join
in HUD's mission.
tie these efforts together, HUD issued a proposed rule on January
6, 2003, that would revise our regulations in eight programs and
remove unwarranted regulatory barriers to the equal participation
of faith-based organizations. The intent of the proposed rule is
to ensure that HUD programs are open to all qualified organizations,
regardless of their religious character. The rule would also clearly
establish the proper uses of grant funds.
public comment period for the proposed rule closed March 6. We are
in the process of carefully reviewing each of the comments we received.
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, HUD wants every potential partner
to have the opportunity to compete for federal resources. If a faith-based
or other community organization wants to work with us - and they
can do the job - then we will welcome them with open arms and do
everything we can to help them succeed in their communities.
this way, we will provide the best possible service to those who
suffer in poverty and despair. And we will help to expand society's
capacity to respond with compassion to human needs.
you, Mr. Chairman.
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