Senate scales down, passes faith-based initiative
(UMNS) - A bill providing tax breaks for charitable giving and more than
$1 billion for social service grants to states has passed the Senate.
almost no resemblance to President Bush's "faith-based initiative"
proposal, the stripped-down piece of legislation encourages giving to
charities by granting non-itemizing taxpayers a tax deduction of up to
$250 for their gifts. The Senate passed the bill in a 95-5 vote April 9.
tax breaks in the bill include a provision that allows people to roll
over their individual retirement accounts directly to a charity without
paying a tax penalty. The bill also reduces capital gains taxes on land
gifts to conservation groups. Other incentives relate to donations to
food banks and provisions that would help low-income people set up
In addition, almost $1.4 billion during the
next two years would be added to the block grant that helps states fund
social service programs, and $150 million would be allocated each year
to assist small-community and faith-based organizations in competing for
The Senate approved the bill once controversial
provisions related primarily to hiring rules were dropped. It now goes
to the House of Representatives, where bipartisan passage is expected.
Objections based on church-state separation issues had halted the
faith-based initiative in the Senate last year, and the bill was stalled
until sponsors dropped provisions that critics said allowed for
federally supported proselytizing.
The bill originated as
President Bush's faith-based initiative - a plan to encourage more
faith-based and community organizations to participate in providing
social services through federal grants. Although often described as a
10-year, $90 billion proposal, administration officials insisted that it
would not have used new money. Instead, they said, it would have
removed barriers to religious groups seeking federal support for social
At the time, officials of the United Methodist
Board of Church and Society and other agencies gave the concept a mixed
review because of concerns about maintaining constitutional separation
of church and state. In June 2001, the board joined with two other
United Methodist agencies - the Board of Global Ministries and the
General Council on Finance and Administration - in publishing a guide to
faith-based initiatives because of the many questions being asked.
series of executive orders were issued last year to accomplish the
president's plans to "even the playing field" so religious organizations
could compete with non-religious groups for money to fund such services
as welfare-to-work training, substance abuse programs, day care for
poor children and housing for the needy.
Two differences exist
between executive orders and congressional legislation: Executive orders
are prepared without public hearing and debate, and subsequent
presidents can undo them.
One of this bill's sponsors, Sen. Rick
Santorum (R-Penn.), said he also plans to support legislative proposals
for expanding faith-based groups' access to federal grants. He has
promised to try adding those proposals to welfare legislation that will
be considered later in the session.
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