- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

The Salvation Army, the nation's "favorite charity," will ask its local leaders to help other relief and ministry groups work with charitable-choice government funding.

The commitment to help the Bush initiative was made in January, when the president established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and today the directors of the Salvation Army's four U.S. regions will compare notes with White House policy staff.

"The White House is looking to the Salvation Army to serve as what they call a 'technical intermediary,'" which helps smaller groups learn how to work with government grants, said Maj. George Hood, the Salvation Army's director of government relations.

"It's not part of partisan politics," he said in an interview at Salvation Army national headquarters in Alexandria. "We're willing to step up as America's favorite charity and help build up capacity."

He said capacity, or the ability of a ministry to organize, request and manage government funds and help clients, is the grass-roots challenge of what he called a major philosophical difference in society if it works.

The Salvation Army, which is decentralized so that local donations are spent in those communities, nevertheless will send a "performance suggestion" to local units and its 5,000 "officers," or ministers, who have practical experience in setting up a community social service alongside a religious ministry.

"It's not a mandate," Mr. Hood said, adding that such a nationwide assistance project still must wait for legislative success and for careful religious-sector implementation. It also may be burdensome for some Salvation Army units.

"In the long run, it's collaboration so the Army can help these ministries. They have to assess their potential, draft a program model, and then maybe go apply for the money. It's based on grass-roots demand."

The charitable-choice law, passed in 1996, lets religious groups bid for welfare funds without having to strip away their religious atmosphere or internal religious management. The Bush initiative, now in proposed legislation, seeks to expand that 1996 provision to nearly all streams of federal funding for social needs.

The Salvation Army, which first took government funds in 1902 for urban poverty work in New York City, now gets contributions from nine in 10 adult Americans and keeps a religious identity that includes ministry and evangelism. Just 15 percent of its funding comes from government.

White House officials hope the Salvation Army can help smaller, local ministries organize to receive charitable-choice funding and not become dependent on government or lose an overt religious identity.

"Charitable choice is not for every ministry or group," said Mr. Hood, noting that each one must decide whether the partnership will curtail the religious aspect of a ministry, and thus render it less effective in turning around people's lives.

Col. Tom Jones, director of information for the Salvation Army, said that even his organization faces obstacles from local officials some who see no church-state problem in how it operates, and other regulators who demand changes.

"We've had cases where they said, 'If you want to take our money, you must remove that [Salvation Army] crest [with a cross] from the room where you feed people,'" he said. "The charitable choice removes those kinds of obstacles."

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