More federal $ for faith-based groups?

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | March 4, 2002

Are more federal dollars in

store for faith-based groups that offer social services?

Maybe, if the government heeds newly released

recommendations that could revive President Bush's

stalled proposal to expand federal support for

religiously based social services.

The 29 recommendations, hammered out by a bipartisan

committee of civil and religious leaders who have in the

past vehemently disagreed over church-state matters,

could form the basis of new provisions in legislation

defining the role of religious and local charities in

providing social services.

At least some recommendations, if implemented, could

directly affect not only national faith-based disaster

response organizations but also the smaller, local

interfaith long-term recovery groups that often form in

the wake of disasters.

Traditionally, many local ecumenical recovery groups

have had difficulty securing federal, state, and city


The committee, called the Working Group on Human Needs

and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, recommended

that congress and the executive branch increase

participation in federal programs of effective

organizations that, because of their small size, have

difficulty pursuing available funds. The group also

recommended that, in designing direct funding programs,

government agencies should not set limitations or

conditions that apply to the benefit or detriment of

faith-based organizations as compared to more secular


Small faith-based groups like the Wayne County Long Term

Recovery Organization in North Carolina could get some

much-needed support if those two recommendations become

a reality.

Since 1999, Wayne County Long Term Recovery has been

helping survivors of Hurricane Floyd rebuild their homes

and regain some sense of financial and emotional


According to Carolyn Tyler, director of North Carolina

Interfaith Disaster Response, the Wayne County group is

known among state and local disaster response leaders

for being a well-run nonprofit that gets results.

One reason for that is because Wayne County Long Term

Recovery has worked closely with the state and county

government, said Barbara Stiles, the group's executive


But Stiles and her tiny staff have received very little

funding from the state or county. Originally the word

"interfaith" was part of their organizational name but

they dropped the word after finding foundations and

other grant makers were more receptive if they remained

more low-key about their faith-based roots.

Then, while they were helping people recover from

Hurricane Floyd, they found people with needs that

weren't disaster-related. They are now ready to

transition from a disaster response group into one that

also offers social services their community genuinely

could use.

With some additional funding, Wayne County Long Term

Recovery could reach people in need with both efficiency

and compassion because of the already-built trust among

the county's families and community groups.

"We're now seeking community development grants," said


But sometimes building credibility is hard for a small

local faith-based group, admitted Stiles. "People think,

oh these do-gooders, what do they know about auditing

and budgets?"

In fact, they know a lot, said Stiles, who could readily

spout figures -- and results -- from Wayne County Long

Term Recovery. In the past year-and-a-half, the group

has provided $725,545 in donated hard goods, building

materials, appliances, furniture, and volunteer and

contractor labor.

Meanwhile the newly released report recommends that

"churches, congregations, and houses of worship that

operate social services programs for which they seek

government funds should create separate 501(c)(3)

corporations, or enter into partnerships with existing

501(c)(3) organizations."

Stiles -- and for that matter many other interfaith

disaster recovery groups --have already done just that.

As Stiles fills out yet another grant application, she

remains hopeful. "We have to bring people out of old

mindsets. We just have to educate people."

Many local interfaith recovery groups have also had

difficulty obtaining foundation or government funding

because grant makers have the impression that disaster

recovery groups exist for a comparatively short time.

But long-term recovery can take five years or more,

depending on the severity of the disaster. And after

recovery is complete, many groups have built a trust,

knowledge, and contacts that would enable them to

transition cost-effectively into offering non-disaster

related social services.

"In fact, that's one of the arguments for an interfaith

committee broadening its base," said Bob Arnold,

associate director for capacity building and evaluation

for Church World Service's emergency response program.

"Many interfaith disaster recovery groups try to

transition into something longer."

Even with the newly released recommendations, Bush's

initiative could remain mired in sticky church-state

issues. The group was unable to reach consensus on

whether tax dollars should be used for social service

programs where religion is a fundamental element, and

whether charities that receive government financing

should be allowed to discriminate along religious lines

in hiring.

Right now, interfaith disaster recovery groups tend to

go after corporate and foundation funds more so than

government monies. The Working Group also recommended an

expansion of non-government funding for faith-based

groups, saying that a major increase in financial

support is needed from private individuals, foundations,

corporations, and other philanthropic institutions for

faith-based and community-based groups working

effectively to address poverty and related unmet human


Another recommendation said that non-government funders

should review blanket restrictions on applications from

faith-based organizations that are working to address

human needs in their communities. Foundations and

corporations should also create more programs that giver

smaller faith-based groups access to small-scale grants,

recommended the committee.

The 54-page report, "Finding Common Ground: 29

Recommendations of the Working Group on Human Needs and

Faith-Based and Community Initiatives," can be viewed

and printed by visiting

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Finding Common Ground: 29 Recommendations of the Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives


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