Faith-based windfall or business as usual?

An article in Politico this morning detailed how religious and community groups have benefited from the still controversial $787 billion stimulus package launched last year by the Obama administration. Though the Obama administration is not getting much positive traction because of it, the disbursement of stimulus dollars are, says Politico’s Ben Smith and Byron Tau, the “largest-scale embodiment of what was, not long ago, a conservative priority: directing tax dollars to ‘faith-based initiatives.’”

Politico tracked how much recovery dough made it into the hands of faith and community based organizations—about $140 million. Of that figure the lion share, $90 million, went to Catholic organizations for anything from a new boiler at a church owned building via an Energy Department grant to federal and state money flows into social service groups for helping the nation’s hungry and unemployed. Conservatives have charged that Obama functionaries were hostile to the notion of the faith-based initiative begun under George W. Bush, but increasingly aggressive efforts of administration officials to energize the program and help religious social service entities tap into federal monies seem to belie that assessment.


Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, told Politico that Obama "took what President Bush did and has expanded it." Father Snyder is in a position to know; he sits on the White House's Faith Advisory Council.

Politico’s analysis found that the big winner, if they can so be described, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act derby among Catholic entities was Catholic Charities USA, which received a total of just under $50 million. That figure could mean that taken as a whole Catholic Charities USA may be the most rewarded faith-based entity under the recovery act. But that’s not exactly how the money was awarded, nor how CCUSA works.

CCUSA spokesperson Roger Conner explained that the cash came from both federal and state grants and was directed to more than 70 CCUSA offices around the country which individually applied for grants based on their local needs and initiatives. According to Conner, there is little unusual about Catholic Charities receiving so much federal support for their work. “We’re large, we’re reliable and we’re committed,” he said. “We’ve been at this for 100 years … And people know us.” Some of those people include bureaucrats at government agencies with grants to dole out for social services who have long worked with Catholic Charities.

Father Snyder pointed out that CCUSA received the federal support despite the well-publicized clash between the administration and Catholic bishops over health care reform. He told Politico: "While it's true that the leadership of the Catholic Church has had disagreements with the administration, especially on life issues and on the details of health care reform, those issues really were kept separate from our ability to work with the administration on basic human services.”

Conner said over the past year Catholic Charities has used the stimulus money that has trickled down via the faith-based initiative primarily on finding emergency shelter and tacking housing issues. The money has funded various efforts not only in temporary housing but in mortgage and foreclosure counseling. A lot of stimulus money was spent via CCUSA on emergency food relief as well, said Conner. He’s not sure how much money is left in ARRA accounts for next year, if any. As deficit control sentiment ascends, the political climate appears to have grown hostile to further support to those knocked down by the Great Recession, despite today’s report of meager job growth and, most disturbing, an increase in unemployment to 9.8 percent. Whatever the Obama administration’s intentions are for the future of its Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office, it will first have to persuade next year’s Republican House, which has already displayed an eagerness to play Scrooge this Christmas for millions of long-term unemployed, to part with the dough.


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