Help for Our Local Heroes
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
February 9, 2001
Among the new proposals President Bush introduced during his first few weeks in office, one in particular may change the way we provide help for those in need. Last week, President Bush proposed a new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and introduced a plan to allow faith-based organizations to compete for federal funding for social services.
Private charities are the cornerstones of many communities' efforts to help their citizens in need. Over the years, research has proved that faith-based organizations are successful in reducing addiction, abuse and juvenile crime. Many communities, as well as state governments, have their own faith-based initiative programs. Faith-based programs and organizations have a long history of successfully reaching out to Tennesseans who need their help, including at-risk youth, the poor, or those addicted to illegal drugs.
For example, St. Luke's Community House serves families in a largely low-income district of West Nashville. St. Luke's was founded by Daughters of the King and provides care for children, counseling for families, and services for senior citizens, among its many important functions. St. Luke's operates solely on volunteer support and donations.
Under President Bush's plan, St. Luke's and thousands more faith-based community groups will be able to compete with non-faith-based organizations for federal funding under the expansion of the Charitable Choice plan. Currently, Charitable Choice allows faith-based groups to compete on equal-footing for federal welfare funds while forbidding religious discrimination against the recipients of the services. President Bush believes that, just as Charitable Choice worked as part of welfare reform, the federal government should not impede the efforts of private charities or discriminate against faith-based institutions as long as the organizations provide social services and do not promote religion.
The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) and parallel offices in a number of federal agencies will examine areas where executive action, legislation, or regulatory relief will lend a hand to faith-based organizations that are successfully serving the needy in Tennessee and across the nation.
The Bush Faith-Based initiative will also encourage charitable giving by expanding the charitable deduction for the 80 million taxpayers who don't itemize on their tax returns. It will allow penalty-free IRA withdrawals from individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for charitable contributions.
I believe that we should stop spending billions of dollars on programs we don't know are working and allow faith-based programs to compete for this funding. These programs can work, and the federal government can set this initiative up in a way that satisfies Constitution requirements. President Bush's proposal for the Faith-Based initiative is an example of what can happen when government decision-makers search for creative approaches to building effective social programs.
Across America, community organizations like St. Luke's are lifting people out of poverty and despair, one act of compassion at a time. These unsung local heroes can't reach every needy person because the government has not viewed them as partners in the fight to improve the quality of life for these Americans. President Bush's plan will remove the barriers that prevent community and faith-based groups from feeding the hungry, fighting crime, strengthening families, and overcoming poverty.
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