A Bush-era victory in culture wars: faith-based initiatives
Despite federal budget cuts, faith-based initiatives appear to be a Bush victor in the culture wars. Experts say its legacy is that it overcame the cultural resistance to using religious organizations as part of social service delivery.
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If faith-based contracting ever caught momentum, it didn't last long. Between 2003 and 2006, the number of grants awarded to faith-based organizations by five main cabinet agencies increased by 41 percent, according to a White House progress report cited by Mr. Daly. But by 2007 the overall total of congregations that were providing social services and receiving government funding was no larger than in 1998, according to a Duke University analysis of National Congregations Survey data. Most religious organizations – especially neighborhood churches who were supposed to be among those most encouraged by faith-based initiatives – have realized they lack the necessary capacity, or in some cases, the interest, to apply for grants and meet government standards.Skip to next paragraph
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"For a time [under Bush], it was like begging faith-based entities: 'Please, apply for money; please take it,' " says Robert Fischer, codirector of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "But they're already able to do a certain level of service. The headache that would come with taking the federal money would not be worth it [to them]. I've heard that very frequently from those doing community-based ministries."
If anything, the social service arena is murkier today than when Bush first took office. Now the lines are blurred, according to Ms. Sager: Religious organizations no longer need to create a separate nonprofit organization to receive government funding for social service work.
Controversy around faith-based initiatives has dissipated under President Obama, even though some controversial policies remain in place. The lightning rod policy allowing for religious hiring decisions endures.
"The issue of hiring is a difficult one," says Joshua DuBois, director of Mr. Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "We continue to examine that issue."
To execute Bush's faith-based vision, his administration engineered only a handful of actual programs, including MCP. The most notable was PEPFAR – the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – a $15 billion AIDS relief program in Africa. Still running, it uses church groups, among others, to treat AIDS and provide for children, and has made Bush a hero in sub-Saharan Africa. The Compassion Capital Fund also endures for teaching local faith-based groups and others how to meet federal funding requirements.
More central to the effort than programs were offices, spanning 10 federal agencies and operating in more than 30 states, created to help religious providers of social services get a slice of the public grant-making pie. Many of these still exist; Obama has similar offices in 12 agencies. But, says David Wright, former project director of SUNY Albany's Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, "the Obama administration is thinking much more about nonfinancial areas of partnership."
Example: Mr. DuBois's office encourages corporations and faith-based groups to spearhead mentoring programs for at-risk youths, but provides no funding.
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In emphasizing specific goals, Obama has broken with the Bush approach, says Daly. Policy priorities cover economic recovery, maternal and child health (including reducing unwanted pregnancies), responsible fatherhood, and interfaith cooperation.
Obama is still eager to work with faith-based groups on unmet needs, says DuBois. For instance, in 2011, the US Department of Agriculture funded 1,465 new religious sites to serve food during the summer to kids who qualify for subsidized lunches.
"President Obama said, 'How about we focus on how we can help people who are facing specific challenges [and] bring in any faith-based organizations that want to help solve those challenges?' " says DuBois.