- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

The Department of Health and Human Services yesterday made good on a Bush campaign promise and issued $30 million in grants to faith-based groups providing welfare services or researching them.

"All of these individuals are volunteers in the army of compassion," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said of the recipients, gathered here for a news conference at World Vision's Kids in Need Resource Center, a Christian ministry distributing clothes and school supplies.

"Why should they be discriminated against?" Mr. Thompson asked, referring to small religious groups that provide social services. He said a funding "partnership is finally beginning to arrive" between the groups and the government.

About 500 faith-based groups bid for the $30 million in Compassion Capital Fund, appropriated by Congress. The 27 winners were judged the best "intermediary" groups, with technical skills or research to promote "best practices" in faith-based welfare.

They will provide "subgrants" to projects on homelessness, hunger, at-risk children, welfare-to-work transitions, and rehabilitation of addicts and prisoners.

The recipients range from Catholic Charities in New Mexico and Associated Black Charities in Maryland, to the Mennonite Economic Development Associates in Pennsylvania, United Way in Massachusetts and the Northside Ministerial Alliance in Michigan.

Operation Blessing International of the Rev. Pat Robertson also received $500,000 for one year. The religious broadcaster had criticized the faith-based initiative early last year, warning that non-Christian or exotic sects might get funded.

Washington-based Southeast Asia Resource Center, which helps refugees, won a grant. The Institute for Youth Development in Virginia also was funded, as were seven universities for service projects or research.

Dare Many Things ministry was awarded $2.2 million to establish the Compassion Capital Fund National Resource Center to coordinate and help the recipients and to expand project reach.

Mr. Thompson said that the fund amount for next year must be reconciled between House approval of $100 million and Senate approval of $45 million.

"The president has a lot of confidence in you," James Towey, head of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told the recipients.

Earlier this year, the Department of Labor issued $14.9 million in grants, boasting that it was the first under the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. The Labor grants were from discretionary funds and the HHS grants were from an appropriation because the bill legislating the Compassion Capital Fund is held up in the Senate.

The Bush initiative also includes tax incentives to bolster charity and expand the 1996 charitable choice law, which allows ministries to bid for funds from five federal agencies.

Critics of the policy worry that it will secularize religious groups or lead to sectarian squabbles. "Giving religious groups control over public funds in a blatant violation of the Constitution," said the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

While new research shows ministries are successfully managing government partnerships, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government reports "serious concerns about the current ability to track" the funding.

Mr. Thompson said that every HHS fund recipient will be audited. "We'll make sure that they are meeting their objectives," he said in an interview. "They'll have to have face-to-face success stories."

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