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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jay Hein
Jay Hein
Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

January 29, 2008

Jay Hein
Good afternoon! I just returned to the White House with President Bush following our trip to Baltimore visiting the Jericho Prisoner Reentry Program, a faith-based organization helping ex-offenders make a fresh start after prison. In his State of the Union address last night, the President recognized the impact of faith-based and other dedicated charities throughout the country like the Jericho Program. He also called on Congress to ensure faith-based organizations are always guaranteed a level playing field in Federal programs, by making Charitable Choice principles universal and permanent under the law. As the President marks the 7th anniversary of his Faith-Based and Community Initiative today, I join him in thanking America’s “Armies of Compassion” for their service to their neighbors in need.

Now I’m pleased to take your questions on the Presidents’ State of the Union address and the determined attack on need executed over the past 7 years through the Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

Ian, from Salt Lake City writes:
What exactly is Faith-Based and Community Initiatives? What do you do?

Jay Hein
Hi Ian,

You ask an important fundamental question. Seven years ago today, the President launched the Faith-Based and Community Initiative to wage a determined attack on human need in our country. The President recognized the limits of government in solving social ills and rallied the “Armies of Compassion” in local communities across the nation to extend a helping hand to their neighbors in need. To help ensure a level playing field for faith- and community-based groups once deterred from competing for federal funds, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, along with Centers in 11 Federal agencies, worked to extend equal treatment for these organizations. The result, after seven years, has been a quiet revolution in the government addresses human need by strengthening community healers and extending their work in partnership with government.

Carl, from Greenville, South Carolina writes:
Hi Jay, Thanks for taking the time to do this. While the President seemed really committed to the faith based agenda at the beginning of his Administration, it seems like he doesn't seem to support it as much now. Was it just all words? What has he been doing to strenghten support for faith based and community programs during his last years in office?

Jay Hein
Hello Carl,

Thanks very much for your important question. The Faith-Based and Community Initiative is carried out a lot like the dedicated organizations and volunteers that inspired it: behind the scenes and with little fanfare. But the truth is, it has quietly transformed the way government works to help people in need. It’s removed barriers faced by faith-based charities and other small nonprofits in partnering with government. It’s provided training to more than 100,000 individuals who are on the front lines of serving the needy. And billions of dollars in funding have been provided to groups serving at-risk youth, recovering addicts, returning offenders and many, many other broken and hurting individuals. As you heard in the State of the Union last night, the President remains committed to championing these efforts until his last day in office.

James, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota writes:
Do you supply initiatives reflecting all of the various religons represented in the United States or just Christian/Judiasm?

Jay Hein
Hello James,

I appreciate your question. The Initiative seeks to guarantee a level playing field for any organization that wants to seek government funding. There should never be any favoritism for or against an organization based on its religious beliefs, or nonbeliefs for that matter. The only consideration should be whether the group can effectively deliver service to the needy in a way consistent with the legal guidelines of the funding.

Terry, from Bowling Green Ky writes:
Could you please tell me what members of the President's cabinet andor Congress that was not present at the State of The Union Address tonight to insure Continuity of Goverment?

Thank you Terry

Jay Hein
Sure Terry. In the event that something catastrophic were to happen as the President gave his State of the Union speech, one member of the Cabinet spends the evening away from the Capitol as a precautionary measure to maintain a line of succession to the Presidency. This year, Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne got to take the night off.

Jennifer, from Montgomery, Alabama writes:
What is the goal for your office in the last remaining months and do you expect the next administration will retain the program? Thank you

Jay Hein
Hello Jennifer,

The heart of the Initiative will always be strengthening faith- and community based groups and growing their work in partnership with government to solve America's biggest social problems. I’d mention three special emphases for this final year. First, we’re putting a special focus on expanding programs that partner with small charities. This includes innovative government programs such as the Mentoring Children of Prisoner’s voucher program and increasing private philanthropy for these organizations. A second priority is to support the 35 governors who have started their own Faith-Based and Community Initiative as well as the other states that are interested in growing their own partnerships with nonprofit groups. This has really become a 50 state strategy. And finally, the President used his State of the Union address to call on Congress to make the Charitable Choice laws permanent. This action will ensure that faith-based groups receive equal treatment no matter who is privileged to occupy the Oval Office next. Given the success we have seen in strengthening government partnerships, the Initiative has become an invaluable governing strategy that will greatly assist the next President in meeting the social challenges that await his or her administration.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
How would you like the next President to build on President Bush's attempts to include faith-based groups in helping people?

Jay Hein
Great question, Michael. Thanks to President Bush, the next President will have a tremendous foundation for new efforts to attack the great needs of our day through faith- and community-based organizations. Most of the barriers to partnering with government that faith-based and small nonprofits once faced have been lowered or removed. We now have clear, Constitutional guidelines for these partnerships as well. We also have a wealth of innovative new program models that enable government to effectively fund even novice, grassroots organizations. And, of course, the ability of the nonprofit sector to partner with government has been greatly expanded through training. Along with a wide range of other efforts, President Bush placed special focus on a number of specific issues: at-risk youth, mentoring, returning prisoners, community health clinics, HIV/AIDS, addiction, homelessness, and others. The next President will no doubt emphasize special issues as well, and he or she will have all the tools needed to draw fully upon faith- and community based groups to address these needs.

Laura, from Marthaville, Louisiana writes:
Will there ever be any type of tax break for those of us who choose to educate our children in a Christian school or home school situation? I love the idea of vochers and wish this would be possible.

Jay Hein
Hi Laura,

President Bush believes strongly in public education. He also believes families trapped in underperforming schools should be afforded education alternatives to ensure their child succeeds. That’s why the President launched the DC Opportunity Scholarship program back in 2004 to help some of Washington, D.C.'s poorest children attend faith-based and other private schools of their choice. Last night, the President proposed a similar scholarship program, “Pell Grants for Kids” that would help low-income families with the costs of attending an out-of-district public school or nearby private or faith-based school. As the President said in his address last night, these grants will help “liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.”

Scott, from McLean, VA writes:
How do you manage to work in politics while staying true to your values? Is it possible to accomplish anything in the political world without heeding the advice of Machiavelli?

Jay Hein
That’s a thoughtful question, Scott. I happen to believe that politics is a wonderful place to put your values into practice. For example, I have worked on welfare reform in Wisconsin and the Faith-Based and Community Initiative here in Washington. Both of these efforts dealt primarly with the question of how we can better serve the least, last and lost in society. Public service is an inspiring career if you love your country and serving others is something we all can do in government or our own neighborhoods. Watching the talk shows might make it seem like government is mostly about one side against another. But I am honored to work for a President who believes we can do better together. As we were leaving the prisoner reentry program in Baltimore this morning, one of the former prisoners turned to President Bush and said "Thank you for caring about us." He really does care about such men and I am inspired by how he puts his values into action in such a way.

Jay Hein
Thank you all for submitting your questions. I look forward to joining you again on Ask the White House!