- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

A White House report yesterday said that five years after a charitable choice law allowed religious groups to handle welfare funds the amounts they received are minuscule and the regulatory obstacles many.
"Charitable choice has not been vigorously implemented in the federal agencies," said John DiIulio, director of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
At a Brookings Institution forum to release the report, Mr. DiIulio said that even though federal law and court rulings allow leeway for religious groups, there is a "government-grass-roots gap" that leaves small groups out of a welfare equation that favors only big, national organizations.
The 25-page report, "Unlevel Playing Field," fulfills a January executive order to audit five Cabinet-level agencies that disburse or regulate social spending. It summarizes what the administration called 800 pages of agency data.
The report listed 15 regulatory or organizational obstacles to faith-based groups applying for or receiving federal funds, most of them related to the complexity of applying or qualifying.
Other obstacles arose from an organizational culture in federal agencies that can be hostile to, or confused about, the role and rights of religious groups in social services or tends to give a "monopoly" to certain big players.
The audit report, which will be issued annually, makes no recommendations. Proposals for improvements will be made to President Bush by each agency.
Exact dollar amounts granted to religious groups are impossible to assess, said Stanley Carlson-Thies, head of the White House audit. "There is not good data to say what that [amount] is," he said, describing the rushed project as "a snapshot, a first time through."
Still, the agencies could report that in their 2000 budgets:
The Department of Education put 2 percent of discretionary grants in the hands of faith-based groups for before- and after-school programs.
Housing and Urban Development gave 16 percent of its homeless services budget to religious groups.
Health and Human Services funneled 21 percent of its abstinence education grants to religious organizations.
The Labor Department let faith-based groups administer 3 percent of its funds for employment and job preparation for youth.
The fifth department with an audit office is the Department of Justice, which said that this year just 0.3 percent of its discretionary budget is earmarked for service provided by religious groups.
The White House report argued that agency practices are lagging behind Supreme Court rulings that "pervasively sectarian" religious groups must be treated neutrally by government when it comes to funds for secular services.
Melissa Rogers, a lawyer who heads the Pew Forum on Religion and Public, disagreed. At the Brookings event, she suggested bureaucrats may "have some well-placed [legal] concerns" about funding religious groups.
The Baptist Joint Committee, an opponent of the Bush initiative, said that by attacking legal "safeguards" the report had "tilted" the playing field in favor of religions that discriminate.
White House Domestic Policy Council Director John Bridgeland said the report, like a traffic signal, retains some caution on these issues.
"The report is a shade between green and yellow," he said.
Others said that the report will mark the beginning of administrative remedies to the apparent bias against religious organizations getting grants.
But Mr. Bridgeland said the White House still is "working in good faith" with Senate Democrats to pass legislation that also expands and clarifies charitable choice.
"This report is a strong endorsement of why Congress should enact the Faith-Based Initiative," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Mr. Watts urged the Senate to pass matching legislation to the House bill adopted last month. "Every day we wait, our ability to serve the poor and needy is diminished," he said.

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