The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 22, 2003

Faith Based Director Jim Towey Discusses Progress to Help Americans
Press Briefing by Director of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Office, Jim Towey, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Secretary of Hud Mel Martinez and Deputy Secretary of HHS Claude Allen
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

video screen capture

Jim Towey's Remarks
video image
audio image listen

10:45 A.M. EDT

MR. TOWEY: This morning, the President met with Secretary Chao, of Labor; Secretary Martinez, of HUD; with the Deputy Secretary of Education, Gene Hickok; Leo "Mac" Mackay, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs; and Dan Bryant, from the Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General, to discuss his faith-based initiative and its importance in spreading compassion in our country and removing barriers that prohibit faith-based organizations from dealing with the needs of our addicts and our homeless and people seeking to move from welfare to work.

President George W. Bush discusses faith-based administrative reforms with Cabinet Members in the Oval Office Monday, Sept. 22, 2003. They are, from left, Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Leo Mackay, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Claude Allen, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and Director of USA Freedom Corps John Bridgeland.  White House photo by Eric Draper So in this meeting, it was discussed by the Secretaries and the departments the progress being made, the finalization of four federal regulations dealing with -- making the playing field level for faith-based organizations to provide services for the poor and seek federal grants, as well as six new regulations that are being proposed today to, again, I think in the word of the President, make a determined attack on need and mobilize armies of compassion in the country to better serve the needs of the poor.

The President's faith-based initiative is making progress because we're seeing more and more organizations seeking to compete for federal grants to provide these services that they know how to provide very well. When you look at a group like Orange County Rescue Mission in California, that has sought to provide HUD services and was told they had to fundamentally alter the entire nature of their service delivery system if they were going to receive federal money to help the homeless, I think President Bush and the administration just felt from the beginning that this was hurting the poor and denying them access to the best and most effective faith-based programs.

So these six new regulations, and the four finalized ones, represent a continued march by the President in the Faith-based Initiative's effort to spread compassion in our country and make sure that the most effective programs are funded, he wants to see results. This is not about funding religion but about funding results and identifying the most effective providers and knocking down the wall that separates the poor from these programs.

So I am now going to yield to Secretary Martinez and Secretary Chao and Secretary Allen, who will make brief statements. And then all will be available to answer questions that you have.

Secretary Martinez.

SECRETARY MARTINEZ: Thank you, Jim. I'm very pleased to announce today that at HUD we have the response to the President's executive order of December the 12th of 2002. We have signed new regulations today which will open up HUD programs, $8 billion in grant programs that are now going to be available to organizations of faith. These include the CDBG program, the Community Development Block Grant program, the Home Investment Partnership program, all major homeless programs, youth build and housing opportunities for persons with AIDS.

This is a monumental thing for us because in the past we have seen not only a negative feeling, but outright hostility to organizations of faith. For instance, the CDBG and the Homes program would not even allow faith organizations to apply for these types of grants. Now that is available to them and they'll be able to compete fairly for an opportunity to serve their communities in a way that only organizations of faith can.

So we're delighted to make this opportunity available to them. We'll also have capacity building dollars available so that these organizations don't have to hire a team of lawyers to figure out how to do business with the federal government. But we'll be in there also assisting them, not just organizations of faith, but all organizations, to ensure that they have access to all of our grant programs.

Secretary Chao.

SECRETARY CHAO: Thank you. The Department of Labor is announcing two changes to regulations that will remove barriers to faith-based organizations. This is part of this administration's ongoing effort to level the playing field for faith-based organizations, which can and do play a very important role in helping workers find new job opportunities.

The first regulation will allow training vouchers, provided by local work force investment boards, to be used by men and women pursuing faith-based careers. And currently these vouchers can be used to purchase training for any occupation with this one exception. This change will bring Labor Department training vouchers in conformity with Pell Grants and the student loan program, which currently can be used to pay tuition in faith-based post-secondary institutions.

Q The second regulation that the Department will amend regards federal contractors to eliminate the barriers to faith-based institutions contracting with the federal government. The Labor Department audits federal contractors to ensure that they follow federal anti-discrimination laws. And, currently, religious institutions can be barred from competing for federal contracts if they hire staff in accordance with their religious beliefs.

We will revise this regulation to conform with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and make it clear that faith-based institutions that secure government funding and contracts are not barred from hiring members of their own faith.

SECRETARY ALLEN: Good morning. I'm Claude Allen, Deputy Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services. And, indeed, it's a privilege to serve a President who understands the important role that faith-based and community organizations play in the health and human service sector of our nation. And rather than throw road blocks in front of the many organizations and wonderful things that faith-based organizations are doing across this nation, the President wants to embrace and stand along side of them through these programs.

HHS as a department touches the lives of every American in some way every day. And in particular, we have a responsibility to protect and serve some of the most vulnerable citizens in our nation. And what we so-called the faith-based community organizations are already doing this.

Last year the President and Secretary Thompson created our Compassion Capital Fund, which is designed to assist grassroots organizations with accessing federal dollars that are available to them. In the first year, over $24 million was awarded to 21 intermediary organizations to help smaller organizations improve their efficiency and their effectiveness and make them competitive for federal grants.

I'm happy to say that Secretary Thompson will announce today over $30 million in new funding to continue the great work of the Compassion Capital Fund. This will allow around $23 million in funding for the existing grantees and add $8.1 million for 10 new intermediary organizations and to provide 50 one-time $50,000 awards to smaller organizations.

And last -- later this week, Secretary Thompson will be announcing a new program at HHS for mentoring children of prisoners. This will allow faith-based and community-based organizations in urban, suburban, rural and tribal populations with substantial numbers of children of incarcerated parents to apply for competitive grants. These grants will support the establishment and operation of programs using a network of public and private entities to provide mentoring services for these children.

The Compassion Capital Fund is expanding the role that faith-based and community groups play in providing social services to those in need. It reflects the President's recognition that faith-based and community organizations are suitably unique to partner with the government in serving poor and low-income families and individuals, particularly those with the greatest needs, such as families in poverty, prisoners reentering the community and their families, children of prisoners, homeless families, and at-risk youth.

I'm also pleased to say that we will be submitting changes to the Federal Register for regulations governing our Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, our community services block grant, and substance abuse and mental health services block grant and discretionary grant programs. These changes will further clarify charitable choice provisions in each of these regulations and encourage more faith-based and community organization involvement in these programs. Thank you, and we look forward to answering any questions you may have.

MR. TOWEY: Any questions?

Q Secretary Chao?


Q You said that today's rule amends the law so that organizations -- faith-based organizations are not banned from receiving funding for hiring people of their own -- of their own faith. But as I understand the law, the problem isn't when you hire someone of your own faith, it's when you exclude people of other faiths. Isn't it a dangerous precedent to provide federal funds for organizations who won't hire someone because they're --

SECRETARY CHAO: I think you're getting mixed up the two regulations. There are two regulations. One is -- refers to the Department of Labor's role in monitoring and auditing federal contractors. And, currently, that part of the regulation is not consistent with the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And so we are clarifying our role in auditing federal contractors to ensure that they are not discriminated against when they are hiring people of their own faith. That's one.

Q And not hiring people -- and not hiring people of other -- well, you're saying just hiring people of their own faith. But the problem isn't that they're hiring Christians or Jews for Christian or Jewish organizations, it's that the Jewish organization won't hire someone who's not Jewish, right?

SECRETARY CHAO: Well, take it -- you can take it for -- you can take that example for a whole host of organizations. We're not talking about the religious content of these positions. What we're saying is, in our role to audit federal contractors, we are removing the barriers that they can hire people of their own faith. That is currently not clear and not allowed under the regulations. We are clarifying that.

The second regulation concerns the federal grants. That is totally different. Right not there is something called the individual training accounts, which an individual already possesses. And they take that money and they decide what training programs they want to enroll in.

So this is an issue about empowerment and about choice. It does not apply to grants that go directly to an organization; it only applies to the individual training grant in which there is already an element of choice, independent choice given to the individual as to what training they want.

Q But is it false that today's rules change provides federal funds to contractors who can now, say, hire people -- not hire people based on their religion?

SECRETARY CHAO: We are removing the barriers that would disallow a federal contractor from hiring someone of their own faith.

Q What about other religions? And barring people from other religions, right? Own faith and not people who have --

SECURITY CHAO: No, I think I made it quite clear. It removes the barrier from allowing an organization, a faith-based organization or any other organization to hire someone of their own faith.

Q But isn't the actual barrier against who you choose to hire? In this case, whether they are not of the same faith, or perhaps in terms of sexual preference -- doesn't this expansion, based, I believe, on a White House paper -- allow federal contractors, or allow religious-based organizations to receive federal funding even though, because of their religious beliefs, they do not want to hire someone who does not share their faith or who perhaps --

SECRETARY CHAO: Well, currently, under Title VII, as I mentioned, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this is currently not allowed. What we are saying is that an organization has the right to hire -- this is an exemption which needs to be clarified. And, currently, it's available in other regulations, and it's not so in our regulation. So we're just clarifying that.

Q It's allowing an exclusion, is it not?

SECRETARY CHAO: No, it's not an exclusion at all. We're removing the barriers.

MR. TOWEY: I think you referred to a White House paper on the administration's position on this, which simply restates an exemption Congress passed over three decades ago, recognizing that while discrimination based on religion is prohibited, an exception was made for faith-based organizations to hire according to religious beliefs. So the only unsettled question was, do you lose that right if you accept federal money?

And Congress settled this in 1996, first on welfare to work, where they said, no, you don't lose the right. And President Clinton signed that into law. He signed it into law again in 1998 and again in 2000. So the very issue that you're raising now has been before the United States for seven years. We haven't seen a pattern of odious discrimination.

What we do see is that faith-based organizations are simply wanting to assert a civil right they've had for over three decades, which Congress I think is recognizing now should be preserved, an exemption that allows them to hire people of their own mission and vision. In any employment decision, there's discrimination. The World Wildlife Fund will make discrimination based on people they hire who share their tenets and beliefs. Universities hire smart people. The issue of how an organization maintains its identity by how it hires has been a standard for three decades, allowing faith-based groups to hire people that share their vision and mission.

Q Excuse me, but where is the level playing field if private employers must uphold certain provisions, in terms of hiring practices, if those are not equally applied to faith-based organizations?

MR. TOWEY: I think the answer very clearly is -- has stood for three decades is that Congress made an exemption to allow religious liberty, a very important part of the first amendment, the religious liberty right of faith-based organizations to hire according to their vision and mission. What would make an Orthodox Jewish organization lose its identity, I think, is if they were told, you can't hire people that share your vision and mission, you should hire several other faiths.

So I think what the President is simply affirming is long-settled civil rights law prohibiting -- I mean, permitting faith-based organizations to hire people who share their vision and mission. And President Clinton was the first President to sign a law saying you maintain that civil right even when you get federal grants.

Q Will the President continue to use the regulatory process to implement these sorts of provisions in the faith-based Initiative? And is that a reflection of difficulties getting that through Congress, getting legislation -- in these provisions?

MR. TOWEY: What the President has sought from the moment he was inaugurated in the first week when he established the White House office was a three-pronged approach to advancing the Faith-Based and Community Initiative. First, to work in regulatory reforms, which Secretary Chao and Secretary Martinez, Deputy Secretary Allen have laid out today, regulatory activities that remove barriers. Second, in Congress -- and we've seen this year the House pass faith-based language on both the Work Force Investment Act and Head Start. There was a consensus last year in the Senate with Senator Lieberman, Senator Clinton and other Democrats joining with Senator Lieberman and Senator Santorum on legislation to legislate equal treatment principles. So there's a lot of support in Congress for the faith-based initiative of the President.

And then, thirdly, outreach to organizations to let them know, here are the do's and don'ts so that they know they cannot discriminate in whom they serve, if they receive public money -- that public funds have to go to a public purpose, and that they are able to maintain their identity while providing the service.

Q What kind of screening process will faith-based groups expect to go through when they're applying for these grants, to show that they're not crossing a line and promoting their faith in their programs?

SECRETARY CHAO: You want to do that one.

SECRETARY MARTINEZ: We have dollars available for capacity building, we call it. And we will be doing that as we reach out to organizations to make sure they understand, first of all, how to go through the process, how to be -- make themselves eligible for grants. But, then, secondarily, also the things they'll have to do to monitor how they work and make sure that the monies that are being provided by the federal government do not go to proselytizing or to furthering religious purposes, but that are focused and concentrated on providing the type of social services that the money was intended to be used for anyway.

I want to also just quickly add on the regulation versus the legislative process that, you know we at HUD have really engaged in a very active process of regulatory reform. And regardless of what happens on the Hill, regardless what legislation may be done, there needed to be a clear set of rules for organizations to follow. It isn't fair to have federal monies going out under certain HUD grants that had a set of rules that said organizations of faith need not apply, while other organizations of faith for similar federal dollars, but under a different program were able to apply and able to receive the grant monies. So there was an awful lot of confusion, an awful lot of clear definition of our regulations. And that needed to be streamlined, needed to be cleaned up, and we've done that.

Q I wanted to clarify something with the action today, and excuse me if I'm confusing regulations and issues, but I just want to be sure. You're saying that with this action, something like the Salvation Army could not hire someone because they're gay? Is that what this does?

MR. TOWEY: The only religious hiring issue addressed today is in federal contracting. And I think what you're referring to are in the federal grants process. And what Secretary Chao made clear was that in federal contracting, federal contractors can -- if they are a faith-based organization, can maintain the civil right given to them over three decades ago in their hiring practice.

There is not an effort here that's implementing charitable choice through regulation. The President is working with Congress on that issue, but I, again, wanted to stress that what President Bush has proposed on religious hiring issue is exactly what President Clinton signed into law three times. And what we've seen in seven years since TANF was passed, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is there is no record of the problems that have been referred to because individuals will go and work for an organization that's simpatico with their own desires.

And so today, the President in his meeting was stressing with the representatives of the six agencies how important the initiative is, how he wants to see the poor have access to the most effective programs. And there will be no discrimination against anyone that's served with public funded -- publicly funded programs. So anyone that comes to the door, regardless, on any basis is served if you receive public money.

Q Excuse me, but a few years ago, the Office of Management and Budget considered revising, I believe, Circular 876 to try to achieve the same goal and came to the conclusion that they couldn't do that. And I'm just -- I'm just confused why you can do this through federal regulations, but OMB could not do this through a circular revision?

MR. TOWEY: I'm not aware of the circular you're referring to, and the conclusion drawn from that. I recall a discussion underway. What the President has said from the beginning was the faith-based initiative is very important to get compassion in action and help the organizations that are capable of providing quality services to be able to access federal funds. And he has sought through these departments to remove barriers that have prevented these groups from competing.

Just because they had a religious name or board of directors, these aren't -- I can give you examples of groups that simply because they had a certain board of directors, they were told, well, you can't apply. Or if you have a mission statement that even has any religious term in it, you can't apply.

And President Bush said, why don't we look at results, provided are groups are funding -- are funded to provide a job-training service or homeless service, make sure they use that money for that purpose. And I think he's going to use every single tool that he has as Chief Executive in the Administrative Branch -- in the Executive Branch, and sees that this -- the real beneficiaries are addicts who can now have access to some treatment programs that before were cut off to them.

The technical assistance programs that are being provided to small groups are very important. How do you access a food pantry grant, a $20,000 grant without having to hire a lawyer and a CPA and a grant writer? Well, this is what the technical assistance seeks to do and it's becoming, I think, more and more known in the faith-based communities that they are now welcome to apply for grants.

So the President has had this reviewed through White House Counsel, the Department of Justice, by the legal counsels of these agencies. He feels he's on very solid legal grounds, but also sees that in the country, people are waiting for access to these programs.

Q But the actual -- the one issue is employment practices, though. I mean, granted, all these other goals are very worthy, but in doing this, are you not allowing religious-based institutions to discriminate in their hiring practices?

MR. TOWEY: When President Bush took office, that was taking place. And what President Bush is simply --

Q Because --

MR. TOWEY: Excuse me?

Q Because it was done before --

MR. TOWEY: I think he recognizes the very important delicate balance that exists in the first amendment between not funding religion, no establishment, but also preserving the very important religious liberty rights of these organizations to maintain their identity. There are many organizations today that receive millions of dollars and have complete hiring autonomy. And he simply wants to see these other groups maintain that same type of autonomy in their hiring for that religious exemption granted to them over three decades ago, that has stood the test of time, and I think has served the country well.

SECRETARY MARTINEZ: Did you have a question?

Q I was just wondering if you could briefly outline for me what part of the President's faith-based imitative is still before Congress?

MR. TOWEY: The President's excited that the charitable giving provisions that he proposed when he first took office are now coming closer to fruition, that the House passed last week, the charitable giving bill, the Senate passed it in April. That bill will now go to conference. This will provide important relief to America's charities and get more resources and service to the poor. That is now, again, in conference. We hope to see -- I talked to Senator Santorum this morning; we're hopeful that this is something that's going to move forward this year.

The religious hiring issues will continue to play out. The President certainly wants to see the debate centered on the poor and on access to the most effective programs. Whether religious hiring issues can be resolved in the Senate or not, we don't know. But the House has passed two bills with that issue intact, and I expect it will now be considered in the Senate.

Q Who will have a monitoring function in terms of making sure that if a client wants services, they don't necessarily have to go through a prayer or this, that or the other in order to get the services? Will there be a monitoring function in that --

SECRETARY CHAO: Oh, I think each one of us can speak for our various departments. But currently, right now, we find that quite the contrary is taking place, that for anyone who has worked in the nonprofit sector, faith-based organizations are a very integral part of the service delivery of a community. And right now they are discriminated against in terms of full access to government funding. What we are trying to do, obviously, is to, as I mentioned and as many others have mentioned, level the playing field so that they can continue to deliver the secular, nonreligious social services which many of them currently deliver.

And in terms of oversight, we have a huge infrastructure that takes a look at whether the programs are being carried out as per the statutes and the legislation and the regulations. There is -- and with reference to your question about how we will be able to monitor at the grassroot level, they will have -- there are safeguards in place. There's a whole performance evaluation infrastructure that is in place in the Department of Labor that will, in fact, make sure that these grants are being given out and administered according to the statutes and the regulations.

Q Will those be made public, the performance evaluations, findings on --

SECRETARY CHAO: I beg your pardon?

Q Will regulatory findings be made public?


SECRETARY CHAO: We have so many grants and it goes on all the time, so I don't really know the answer for sure. But I don't see why not.

SECRETARY MARTINEZ: There's not a whole lot that goes on at HUD that's secret, I'll tell you that. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CHAO: That's right. Same here.

SECRETARY MARTINEZ: I wanted to point out to you, because I know we can get off into the hiring issue, which is very controversial, I realize -- but there's so much about this that is so good and the President is so committed to it, and here's why. We have the Wilkinson Center in Dallas, Texas, just one example. This is a center for the past 20 years has served the poor in that community, whether it be family -- supplying with a 115,000 pounds of food, or clothing or shoes for children -- all of these activities.

They received in 1998 a $60,000 community development block grant from the city of Dallas to upgrade its kitchen for a restaurant job training program. Well, as luck would have it, their mission statement indicated that the Wilkinson Center cooperates with the people in need who desire to create a better life, so they may reach their God-given potential and sustain themselves with dignity. The mention of God in their mission statement was enough for HUD to tell them that they had to remove that from their mission statement in order to get the grant. The fact of the matter is that they chose not to remove that from their mission statement and were not able to receive that grant.

As a result of the regulations we're changing today, the Wilkinson Center in Dallas, Texas, I'm happy to say, is going to now be able to receive that grant. It will be able to move on in the work that they're doing to make Dallas a better place and the poor people of Dallas will benefit by it.

That doesn't mean that a lot of these other issues will go away, but it does mean that an awful lot of people in Dallas who benefit by what they do will now not have the impediment of that one issue keep them from being able to do it.

Thank you.

END 11:07 A.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document