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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Center at UH receives $1.8M grant

Advertiser Staff and News Services

The Center on the Family at the University of Hawai'i has won $1.8 million as part of President Bush's "faith-based initiative" to involve traditional providers as well as churches and religious groups in social service.

The grant is among $25 million given to 21 groups in the first tangible result of the program, which stalled in Congress amid fierce debate over how religious programs can get government money without running afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Other winners of Compassion Capital Fund grants ranged from Catholic Charities and the United Way to Operation Blessing International and the Christian Community Health Fellowship of Illinois.

The Center on the Family at UH will receive its money over three years to distribute throughout the community to help the homeless, at-risk children and their families, the elderly, the "food insecure" and those transitioning from welfare to work.

Winners are supposed to help smaller groups run programs and win a piece of the multibillion-dollar pot of government money available for social services.

"We're projecting that maybe up to 20 agencies will receive funds," said Ivette Stern, project coordinator of the center at UH. "We're partnering with the Hawai'i Community Foundation and the Hawaiian Islands Ministry. And the foundation is matching the federal dollars with an additional $300,000 each year."

The grants announced yesterday in Washington were created to provide technical assistance to smaller churches and others that need help applying for and running government programs. As designed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups that get grants will then make sub-grants to help these smaller groups establish and run programs.

HHS said the winners should give priority to programs that work with homelessness, hunger, at-risk children, welfare to work, drug addicts and prisoners in awarding its sub-grants.

Hawai'i's Stern said a Request for Proposals will go out in the next few months and grants will be allotted in the spring. "This will be the first time we've provided direct services like this," said Stern.

The Center on the Family at UH has been a resource and data center dedicated to supporting and strengthening families. Among other things, it puts together the annual Hawai'i Kids Count Data Book that tracks the well-being of Hawai'i children.

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye said the money may be used to purchase computer systems and office equipment, receive technical assistance, or fund-raising training. "The project's main objective," Inouye said, "is to help these organizations operate effectively and efficiently so that they can focus more of their resources on helping those in need."

Several religious groups were among the grant winners, including Virginia-based Operation Blessing International, a group founded by Pat Robertson, which got $500,000; Christian Community Health Fellowship of Illinois, which won $1.1 million; and Nueva Esperanza, a Hispanic, Philadelphia-based group, which got the largest grant, nearly $2.5 million.

Another winner is the Florida-based National Center for Faith Based Initiative, which describes itself as working to create wealth and then "empower our people to steward that wealth for the purposes of the kingdom," according to its Web site. The group says its prototype for working on these problems "is not the world ... but rather THE WORD!!!" It got $700,000.

Other winners are traditional social service providers, including the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, which got $2 million; Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico, $1 million; and Volunteers of America, $700,000.

"The President's faith-based initiative doesn't subsidize religion. But discrimination against faith-based organizations based on their religious identification is wrong," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "This administration is committed to changing that long-standing practice."

HHS received more than 550 applications for the money.

The department is also awarding four grants totaling $850,000 to support research on how these groups provide social services and the role they play in communities. Among these grantees: the University of Pennsylvania, academic home of John DiIulio, who led Bush's initiative for its first, controversy-filled eight months.

HHS said $2.2 million is being given to Dare Mighty Things in Vienna, Va., to establish a national resource center and clearinghouse for technical assistance and training for religious and community-based groups. Another $1.35 million was awarded to Branch Associates of Philadelphia to evaluate "innovative practices and promising approaches." There has been very little research as to how effective religious groups are in delivering social services.

The Compassion Capital Fund has not been officially established, or authorized, by Congress, where President Bush's overall initiative is stalled. But last year, lawmakers gave HHS $30 million to help implement one of the least controversial pieces of his plan: helping small groups that may be doing excellent work in their communities gain the expertise needed to win large grants and grow.

Bush has asked for $100 million for the fund next year, a request the House is going along with. The Senate wants the fund to remain at $30 million.

Because the program remains unauthorized, there are no rules in law to govern sticky issues governing the separation between church and state that accompany any government financing of religious groups.

For instance, in an interview this summer, Bobby Polito, who directs the HHS program, said groups getting grants or subgrants will be allowed to consider religion in hiring and firing workers. This is one of the major issues that has divided lawmakers and kept Bush's larger initiative on hold.

Polito also said there's no problem using federal money for a program in which prayer is central, as long as tax dollars are paying for secular elements of the program. He also said that groups will not be required to separate the religious and secular elements of their programs. Liberals object to both approaches, saying participants should be allowed to opt out of anything religious.

Advertiser staff writer Beverly Creamer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.