Obama’s stimulus pours millions into faith-based groups
The stimulus bought Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis a new heating and cooling system. In Laramie, Wyo., it bought the Church of St. Laurence O’Toole new windows for the Roman Catholic school it runs. And in Harrisburg, Pa., Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area spent its $120,000 in stimulus funding on food and shelter for local homeless people.
“It kind of fell from the sky, and it was unbelievable that we had this much extra money,” said Jackie Rucker, executive director of the church-sponsored nonprofit in Pennsylvaniaâ€™s capital.
For many conservatives, the $787 billionÂ American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as the stimulus is formally known, has been Exhibit A in their case against the Obama administration, a symbol for an era they feel will be defined by out-of-control government spending. (See:Â Biden: ‘Recovery Act is working’)
But theÂ stimulus is also the largest-scale embodiment of what was, not long ago, a conservative priority: directing tax dollars to “faith-based initiatives,” as PresidentÂ George W. Bush called them. (See:Â Obama to rename Bush’s faith office)
The story of theÂ Obama administration’s large-scale spending on faith-based groups has been largely untold, perhaps because it cuts so sharply across the moment’s intensely partisan narrative. And in fact, when the stimulus was being debated in February 2009, conservatives attacked the bill as “anti-religious” in its spending guidelines. (See:Â Mixed W.H. signals on stimulus)
But an analysis by POLITICO found that at least $140 million in stimulus money has gone to faith-based groups, the result of an unpublicized White House decision to spend government money, where legal, supporting religiously inspired nonprofit groups. And that decision was just the beginning.
In an aggressive attempt at outreach, federal agencies, in conference calls and online seminars, instructed faith-based groups on how to apply for the grants, and federal officials sometimes stepped in when the state officials who distribute the money were reluctant to spend it on groups associated with churches and other religious establishments.
“Part of our job is to ensure that there’s a level playing field â€” we don’t encourage anyone to favor faith-based groups over other organizations, but we do want to ensure that there’s no discrimination against faith-based organizations,” said Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which Bush created and President Barack Obama renamed and expanded. (See:Â The Obama generation)