Friday, March 10, 2006

The camel's back is breaking

I would like to preface this post by saying I have nothing against the idea of religious organizations working to end poverty. We all come different experiences, and backgrounds, and do good work, but…

The Bush Administration, and Homeland Security’s recent actions, calling for corporate America to open it’s pocketbook to faith-based charities is the latest example of why we are headed into the lion’s den concerning poverty in America.

By backing such inane policies such as the 10-year plan to end homelessness, and the idea that charity models can save America from millions of people falling between the cracks - poor and working people are being led like lambs to the slaughter.

More so, the move to shift funding from non-religious organizations to religious charities is another example of the Administration working to bridge Church and State.

"One of the things that really inspires me is when I get to meet folks who are on the front line of changing America one soul at a time,” says President Bush, according to Knight Ridder Newspaper. “Government can pass law and it can hand out money, but it cannot love."

He went on to say, “I believe all of us, no matter if we're private or public, ought to allow religious organizations to compete for funding on an equal basis, not for the sake of faith, but for the sake of results.”

Another article by the Christian Post quotes, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff saying, “Faith-based and community organizations played an “instrumental role” in response to Hurricane Katrina. They continue to be an essential partner in helping victims in the Gulf States region rebuild their lives and communities.”

Homeland Security has used the New Orleans debacle as a wedge to creep into the lives of poor people by arguing that military, and Homeland Security can be responsible for responses to natural disaster. The truth is, we have yet to see justice for the lack of response to Katrina, and the Administration is using New Orleans to promote it’s own agenda not only through Faith-Based approaches, but through programs like Homeless Connect, a volunteer event geared towards serving the homeless. It’s an insult to poor and working people everywhere.

The Federal Homeless agency’s Web site has touted the Homeless Connect as being “central to the community response to Hurricane Katrina, continuing to grow as an effective means of providing services and engaging the entire community.” Have we already forgotten scores upon scores of people died because of the lack of response? Economic racism is still being doled out to thousands of gulf-coast citizens scattered across the states.

The following are excerpts from a press release issued by the White House yesterday on the subject of Faith Based Initiatives:

"The President's Initiative Is Producing Real Results For Americans In Need

Continued Increase In Federal Dollars To Faith-Based Organizations. Recent data from a review of more than 23,000 grants provided by the U.S. Departments of Heath and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Justice (DOJ), Labor (DOL), Education, and Agriculture, and the U.S. Agency for International Development showed:

Helping The Poor Access New, Effective Programs. President Bush has created programs that mentor children of prisoners, train re-entering prisoners, treat addicts in the program of their choosing, discourage at-risk youth from gang activity, and provide technical assistance to small organizations seeking to help more people in need. From 2002 to 2006, President Bush requested $1.35 billion for these targeted initiatives, and Congress has appropriated $742 million. The President's 2007 budget calls for an additional $323 million for these programs, including funds for a new effort combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in minority communities.

Victory In The Federal Courts. Two important recent Federal Court decisions upheld President Bush's approach to FBOs and their rights. In American Jewish Congress v. Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the right of AmeriCorps grant recipients to teach religious and secular subjects in religiously affiliated schools. In January 2006, the Supreme Court declined review of the decision, leaving the Court of Appeals' ruling intact. In October 2005, in the case of Lown v. Salvation Army, a Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that churches and religious organizations retain their hiring autonomy when they receive Federal financial assistance. The court recognized FBOs do not become an arm of the government merely by receiving funding to provide social services.

Protecting The Rights Of Faith-Based Organizations. In February 2006, President Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reauthorized welfare reform for another five years. The legislation also extended for five years a policy called Charitable Choice, which allows faith-based groups providing social services to receive Federal funding without altering their religious identities or changing their hiring practices.

Ending Discrimination Against Faith-Based Organizations. During the President's first term, Federal agencies promulgated fifteen final rules, including general rules covering funding from seven agencies; three regulations implementing Charitable Choice statutes; a DOL regulation implementing the amendment of EO 11246; and three regulations changing discriminatory language in specific HUD, Veterans' Affairs, and DOL programs. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Commerce published an interim final rule in August 2005 strengthening the Department's commitment to a level playing field for faith-based and community organizations. These regulations all clarify FBOs' eligibility to participate in Federal social service programs on the same basis as any other private organization and prohibits religious discrimination by distributors of Federal funds.

Compassion Following The Gulf Coast Hurricanes. The compassionate response of faith-based and community groups to Gulf Coast hurricane victims is a reminder of the vital importance of these groups and the President's Initiative. The new DHS Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will help integrate faith-based and community organizations into Federal, State, and local emergency response plans, enabling cooperation between these grassroots groups and various levels of government in disaster response efforts."

The Chicago Tribune reports that through the new faith-based approach, “When Chicago's Night Ministry opens a temporary shelter for homeless teenagers this spring, it can thank the White House for $50,000 in "compassion capital.”

More than $600 million has been cut from the Housing and Urban Development’s homeless assistance programs - while HUD and other Human Services organizations are allocating "compassion capital" to programs from Head Start to recovery programs, to organizations dealing with homelessness.

I would urge anyone who donates money to organizations working with people in poverty to do your homework, and chose accordingly.

While I’m not arguing against organizations that use a charity model, history has proven time and again that charities do not save people from poverty – only jobs, and stable living conditions save people from poverty. The livelihoods of America’s poor and working people are being sold out from underneath us in the name of God, and bread.

The service worker getting paid minimum wage today shouldn't be tomorrow’s homeless person, and the homeless person today shouldn't have to chose between being served by an institution, and a low-wage job offering no way out of poverty. To quote an old Union phrase, “We want bread, yes, but we want roses too!” And we want some affordable housing, jobs, and health-care to boot!


Dan Newth said...

God damm your writing is getting good Israel.

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