Sunday, August 19, 2001

Faith-based groups are skeptical

Official's resignation raises funding questions

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        President Bush's point man to bring more federal dollars to faith-based groups has resigned, leaving some Greater Cincinnatians skeptical they ever will see more money for their programs to help the homeless, drug addicts and former prisoners.

        “It's just another ball that's been tossed in the air and just hasn't come down. I can't see it happening only because of the politics involved,” said Barb Barker of Storehouse Ministries in Covington. The ministry operates a soup kitchen and a store for low-income people to shop for free food, clothes and furniture.

        In early February, President Bush launched an initiative that would open federal coffers to scores of faith-based organizations, many of which perform social work.

        The skepticism of Mrs. Barker and her husband, Mason, intensified Friday when John DiIulio, 43, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned. The Democrat and University of Pennsylvania professor was frustrated by the politics of Washington, which he encountered as he pushed the Bush initiative through Congress.

        “It's popular with people but not with the politicians, which is always the problem when it deals with religion or the Ten Commandments,” Mrs. Barker said.

        Mr. DiIulio has said he will leave his job as soon as a transition team is in place.

        Joel Kaplan, executive director of Jewish Family Service in Blue Ash, said the agency already receives about $50,000 in federal dollars.

        He hoped Mr. Bush's initiative would make the agency eligible for more grant money. The agency has been denied some grant money because of its name and the assumption that the agency's main effort is to push Judaism, he said.

        And now Mr. DiIulio is leaving.

        “There's no question that, if this was their point person, there's a message here. Something's awry,” he said. “The whole faith-based initiative is, in a sense, a shell game. But we're not a missionary group. We're not trying to convert anybody. Who are they going to give this money to?”


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