Faith-based funding

electionexplanation2Religion reporter Alan Cooperman covers faith-based initiatives for the Washington Post. His story today, which highlights a report from the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare, had some interesting phrases.

Despite the Bush administration’s rhetorical support for religious charities, the amount of direct federal grants to faith-based organizations declined from 2002 to 2004, according to a major new study released yesterday. . . .

The study by the nonpartisan Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy examined 28,000 grants made by nine federal agencies over three years. It found that religious charities got an unchanging share — about 18 percent — of the money awarded each year.

But because the total pie of available funding shrank by more than $230 million over the three years, the slice that went to religious groups also declined, from $670 million in fiscal 2002 to $626 million in fiscal 2004.

Note the lead, which is, essentially: despite claims of support, the amount of money to faith-based groups decreased under Bush. I have really enjoyed Cooperman’s writing for years and this is a minor quibble, but I think it’s important to note that a leader can, in fact, support faith-based initiatives and at the same time oversee a funding decrease. It’s not necessarily a contradiction and therefore doesn’t require the loaded word despite. In fact, the third paragraph I’ve excerpted here shows that overall government-wide discretionary spending went down (while spending to pay for the war in Iraq and to fund mandatory entitlements skyrocketed, of course) and is the reason for the decrease.

It’s just a good reminder that budgets are contentious issues and reporters shouldn’t take sides on policy prescriptions. Because of that, the language should be as neutral and straightforward as possible. In fact, the more contentious the issue, the flatter the language should be.

Another note: see how the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy is characterized? That’s right — nonpartisan. If there is a worse descriptor for reporters to use, I’m not aware of it. And, in fact, the Roundtable has a fairly good record of raising legal and ethical questions against faith-based initiatives. I know this because I used its research when I was writing a chapter of my book against faith-based charity funding! The Roundtable might be nonpartisan in the sense that it more-or-less opposes charitable choice and faith-based funding no matter which party supports it. But is that the best way to characterize the group? How about we reveal the Roundtable’s funding, at least?

Also, I’m not sure how great of an idea it is for Cooperman to vouch for the group while he’s covering it. But all of this quibbling is actually not what I intended to say. I think it’s good for reporters to look into faith-based funding and see how it’s changing — or not changing, as Cooperman’s report says — public policy. There’s a treasure of information to be mined.

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  • Russ Pulliam

    Good point by Mollie. There is a tendency among reporters to assume that more funding means more support, and vice versa. But that shows a lack of understanding of the debate over effectiveness when it comes to funding. Bono, for example, calling for more aid to Africa, still wants to see it go through effective channels, not down ratholes.

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  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    I am a Christian but I have serious reservations about faith-based initiative funding and voucher funding for schools, especially Christian schools. My church tried government assistance with our food pantry to some rather disasterous results. We could only distribute at set days and times. If a government inspector came on off hours, the church could be fined. We had to serve everyone from certain ZIP codes who came to us–and if someone was from another ZIP code, we were supposed to send them to another pantry.

    And what did we get from the government? Well, who is going to use 5 pound bags of prunes? Or institutionalize size cans of Garbanzo beans? Sometimes the food had expired dates on it.

    We have found we can more than adequately meet the needs of the 50-60 each week who come to us through private donations and Thrivant assistance. Any help the government gives is more hassle than its worth.

    Some Lutheran schools in Milwaukee are in the voucher program. The debate is on whether the cap on the number of students will be enforced, raised, or eliminated. Interestingly I see many of the Lutheran principals now asking me to contact my legislator to lift the cap otherwise they might lose students–and have a fiscal negative balance. What happened to good stewardship? I fear the schools have gotten used to government money at the expense of good stewardship. The interesting thing is Lutheran schools thrived–even in the inner city of Milwaukee–for decades with school choice. Parents eager to have the children get a good education often found ways to pay the tuition (and often if they joined the church they paid no tuition after about a year).

  • AmericanPapist

    equally problematic is “who needs Jesus when you have healthcare?”

  • Connie Sharpe

    Reporters and nonprofit advocates are missing the clues here with faith-based funding. What is Kay Guinane’s gripe? [See excerpt below.]

    The government’s been piss-poor at caring for the poor, so why shouldn’t government funds for the poor go to where the poor go?

    Faith the poor have. Taxable income they don’t. Let’s cut the criticism and work with changing the momentum of caring for the poor. Change doesn’t happen overnight, especially when we put all our eggs in incomplete studies.

    Kay Guinane’s comment which we hope was taken out of context or in an incomplete form:
    “The study released yesterday “is confirmation of the suspicion I’ve had all along, that what the faith-based initiative is really all about is de-funding social programs and dumping responsibility for the poor on the charitable sector,” said Kay Guinane, director of the nonprofit advocacy program at OMB Watch, a liberal watchdog group in Washington. “It sounds warm and fuzzy, but they’ve been cutting down the size of the pie all along.””