- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

The Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act is a victory for President Bush's campaign for compassionate conservatism.

The Senate Finance Committee passed the CARE Act last Tuesday. The CARE Act taps into America's renewed spirit of unity, community and responsibility in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This groundbreaking proposal, which I have recently introduced in the Senate with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, builds on the president's Faith-Based and Community Initiative launched last year. The bill seeks to harness the potential of charitable organizations in order to help the federal government provide social welfare services to the most needy members of our society.

The CARE Act attempts to resolve the current crisis that charitable organizations are facing. Unfortunately, as a result of the tragic events of September 11, numerous charitable organizations are suffering financial losses in some cases, up to 20 percent or more. In responding to September 11, many Americans have diverted their giving away from traditional charities like feeding the poor and helping the homeless, and are exclusively focusing on contributing to organizations that help the victims of the terrorist attacks.

The CARE Act seeks to rectify this problem through a number of expanded tax incentives. The committee bill restores a charitable tax deduction for nonitemizers of up to $250 for individual taxpayers and $500 for couples who do not itemize on their tax returns. This provision finally begins to rectify the discrimination two-thirds of Americans experience by not being allowed to itemize on their returns. The legislation also allows for tax-free distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) when savings are donated for charitable purposes.

The CARE Act also attempts to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

Up to 300,000 low-income Americans will be encouraged to save and build assets through Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). These special savings accounts offer matching contributions from a sponsoring bank or community organization and will be reimbursed by a tax credit on condition that the proceeds go to buying a home, starting a business or paying for postsecondary education.

Low-income Americans now are being given the possibility of sharing in the American dream.

Furthermore, the CARE Act helps smaller faith and community-based organizations by providing them with additional resources. Through a compassion capital fund, social service agencies are given the opportunity to help these struggling charities with time-consuming and complicated administrative tasks such as grant writing and incorporation. This provision will help smaller faith-based communities survive and grow into viable charitable organizations.

Despite the positive advantages of the CARE Act, some are wary of the impact of its provisions. Critics on the left fear the plan violates the Constitution by fusing church and state arguing that preferential treatment would be given to religious groups. This is false. Instead, the CARE Act finally gives religious charitable organizations the opportunity to compete with secular organizations for federal funding. The proposed legislation creates a level playing field for faith-based charities by ensuring that when they apply for government funds they cannot be discriminated against because of their religious nature.

On the other hand, critics on the right argue that the CARE Act will undermine the religious character of faith-based organizations by restricting their abilities to promote religious values. But, the moral integrity of faith-based organizations is protected by the CARE Act. The Equal Treatment provision assures that organizations seeking federal funds are not required to remove religious symbols, change their names or alter their government structures in order to qualify. Hence, faith-based organizations can still adhere to the values and beliefs that motivate them and make them unique.

The CARE Act owes much of its growing popularity to the joint co-operation and hard work of both Democrats and Republicans. It has been cosponsored by 25 senators and endorsed by more than 1,600 grass-roots organizations.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, argues that the CARE Act is not a Republican or Democratic plan, but rather, "It is a bipartisan proposal that strikes the right balance between harnessing the best forces of faith in our public life without infringing on the First Amendment." The widespread support of the bill makes the president want to "get it out of the Senate, and get it on [his] desk for the good of the American people."

The CARE Act advances our common interest in turning the immense spirit of volunteerism and civic duty in our country toward building strong communities.

The CARE Act's ultimate goal is to help those most in need in our society the poor, the hopeless and the destitute.

As President Bush stated at the National Prayer Breakfast, "In service to others, we find deep human fulfillment, and as acts of service are multiplied, our nation becomes a more welcoming place for the weak, and a better place for those who suffer and grieve." The CARE Act fulfills this promise. Mr. Daschle should quickly bring this legislation to the Senate floor.

Rick Santorum is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania.

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