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Faith-based funds $1.17-billion in '03

Published Aug. 24, 2005

The government gave more than $1-billion in 2003 to organizations it considers "faith-based," with some going to programs where prayer and spiritual guidance are central and some to organizations that do not consider themselves religious at all.

Many of these groups have entirely secular missions and some organizations were surprised to find their names on a list of faith-based groups provided to the Associated Press by the White House.

"Someone has obviously designated us a faith-based organization, but we don't recognize ourselves as that," said Stacey Denaux, executive director of Crisis Ministries, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Charleston, S.C.

All told, faith-based organizations were awarded $1.17-billion in 2003. That is about 12 percent of the $14.5-billion spent on social programs that qualify for faith-based grants in five federal departments. White House officials expect the total to grow.

The list of 2003 grant recipients provided to AP is the first detailed tally of the dollars behind this "faith-based initiative."

In the past, government has refrained from giving money directly to religious groups, but has required that they set up independent, secular organizations to get taxpayer dollars. Bush tried to get Congress to change that. Congress refused, so he unilaterally put many of his changes into effect.

An AP analysis of the $1.17-billion and nearly 150 interviews in 30 states with grant recipients found:

+ Many are well-established, large social service providers that have received federal money for decades. More than 80 percent of recipients at HHS had received federal money before. At HUD, the figure was 93 percent.

+ Two programs account for half of the $1.17-billion total: A HUD program known as Section 202 that builds housing for low-income poor people, and Head Start, a large preschool program for poor children. Both of them are dominated by longtime grant recipients able to handle large amounts of money _ not the small church groups sometimes evoked by the White House.

+ Many organizations insist they do not belong on a list of "faith-based organizations," even though they may have religious roots.

White House officials said the list included groups which had identified themselves as faith-based and groups which officials thought religious based on their names.

More common: groups with a religious perspective that steer clear of proselytizing.

"We intentionally avoid references to God and his works in our educational material so that no one will feel intimidated or avoid our services because they're of a different religion," said Sue Ortiz, a home ownership counselor at Inner City Christian Federation in Grand Rapids, Mich., which got $65,000 in 2003 and $150,000 in 2004.

But religion inspires their work, she said: "We do what we do because of God's love."


THE CATEGORY: The government reported money awarded to "faith-based" groups, but some of those do not consider themselves religious and were surprised to be in a listing given to AP.

UNILATERAL STRATEGY: Congress would not let the government directly fund religious groups, so President Bush opened the government's checkbook.STATUS QUO: An Associated Press review found that many recipients were well-established, large social service providers that have gotten federal money for decades.