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Fact Sheet: Progress for the President's Compassion Agenda

December 12, 2002

Today's Presidential Action

During the traditional December season of giving, President Bush took steps to help those in need by reaching out to America's faith-based and community organizations.

The President announced that he would implement, by Executive Order, key elements of his Faith-Based and Community Initiative, including some elements contained in the bipartisan C.A.R.E. Act legislation that stalled in the Senate this year. These actions will make it easier for America's charities to work with the federal government to address the needs of hurting Americans. The President:

  • Signed an Executive Order on Equal Treatment for Charities and announced new Agency actions eliminating discriminatory practices against faith-based and community groups;
  • Directed FEMA to revise its policy on disaster relief for faith-based non-profits; and
  • Signed an Executive Order opening new Faith-Based and Community Initiative offices at the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development.

The President took these steps today in Philadelphia after meeting with children who have a parent in prison and are being mentored through the Amachi Program. The Mentoring Children of Prisoners Initiative is an important priority for President Bush, and in late 2001, he helped secure a $67 million authorization for the program. He also delivered remarks to more than 1,500 charity, religious, and community leaders attending the White House Regional Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. That Conference is designed to educate groups on how to partner with the Federal government.

Background on Today's Presidential Action:

President Bush has always been strongly committed to helping Americans in need by reaching out to and expanding the role of faith-based and community organizations. The President envisions an America where people in need are served by people who care. To achieve this goal, the President believes the Federal government can remove barriers that prevent faith-based and grassroots groups from doing more to help Americans in need.

The action taken today by President Bush makes it easier for people in need to get access to the broadest range of assistance possible. By eliminating discriminatory barriers to Federal social service participation by faith-based and community groups, the President is empowering grassroots groups that have a proven record improving the lives of Americans who are hurting and suffering.

Level Playing Field for Faith-Based and Community Organizations:

The President signed an Executive Order directing agencies to take steps to ensure that all policies (including guidance, regulations, and internal agency procedures) are consistent with equal treatment principles. Specifically, this action ensures that no organization will be discriminated against based on religion, and that no beneficiary of Federally-funded social services may be discriminated against based on religion. The Executive Order addresses a pattern of discriminating against faith- and community-based groups that have been repeatedly identified in Federal social service programs.

For example, in Iowa, the Victory Center Rescue Mission was threatened with having its $100,000 in Federal funds supporting its homeless shelter revoked because its governing board was not sufficiently "secular." The Rescue Mission opted out of the Federal program (under which it had been awarded $367,000) and sold the shelter to another organization that was considered "secular" enough. In New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty - a council of secular organizations - was informed by federal officials that it could not apply for a grant because of the word "Jewish" in its name.

In addition, the Executive Order restates the Constitutionally-established requirement that organizations cannot use government funds to support "inherently religious" activities, such as worship, religious instruction, and proselytization. The Order clarifies that organizations may retain their religious identity, including the display of icons, symbols, and selection of board members on a religious basis. In keeping with the long-established right (set out in the Civil Rights Act of 1964) of religious organizations to maintain their religious identity and independence, the Order also amends a previous Executive Order to ensure that religious organizations receiving Federal contracts are able to take their faith into account in making employment decisions.

FEMA Disaster Relief:

FEMA is revising its policy regarding disaster relief for religious nonprofits. Under current FEMA policy, religious non-profits such as schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters cannot receive federal disaster relief when they suffer damage -- even though they provide valuable social services to the community. Under the changes announced by the President today, faith-based social service organizations will be eligible to receive aid just like other social service organizations damaged or destroyed by natural disasters, retroactive to January 2001. This policy change stems from an appeal by the Seattle Hebrew Academy, a private religious school that was denied relief after its building was seriously damaged in an earthquake.

New Centers at the Department of Agriculture and at United States Agency for International Development:

The President signed an Executive Order establishing new Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at USDA and USAID and directs them to undertake an audit of existing faith-based and community efforts in their programs. They join existing Centers at the Departments of Education, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development.

More Information to Help Groups Partner With the Federal Government:

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives prepared the booklet "Guidance for Partnering with the Federal Government" ? a new document that answers some of the most frequently asked questions by groups on the "do's and don'ts" of working with the Federal government. In addition, it provides clear guidance on some of the pressing church-state questions that commonly arise regarding faith-based groups partnering with the government.

Charitable Choice Regulations:

For the first time since Charitable Choice first passed Congress and was signed into law in 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services is issuing regulations implementing the Charitable Choice laws for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), and Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). These regulations restate the principles of Charitable Choice and clarify some key outstanding questions, including:

  • Preserving the right of religious groups to maintain their individual identity through hiring;
  • The requirement to provide an alternative provider when requested by a person seeking service; and impact on state and local laws.

HUD Regulatory Revisions:

HUD is revising regulations that apply to a number of programs that are operated out of its Office of Community Planning & Development (Community Development Block Grant, HOME, McKinney Vento Act programs, etc). These regulations will incorporate the principles set out in the Executive Order on Equal Treatment. In addition, HUD is repealing regulations that prohibited primarily religious organizations from participating in certain programs - even those focusing on "secular activities."

Education Guidance:

The Department of Education is issuing final guidance on the eligibility of faith-based organizations for supplemental services, affirming existing civil rights protections.

George W. Bush, Fact Sheet: Progress for the President's Compassion Agenda Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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