Senate backer casts doubt on government assistance for charities

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is unlikely this year to pass a version of President Bush's plan to expand the role of religious charities in social services, the measure's chief Senate booster acknowledged Oct. 9.

''It's always difficult to pass something, and this year there is especially heavy competition,'' said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. ''We are working on it but the time is short.''

Santorum complimented the efforts of six religious organizations that provided food, shelter, clothing and counseling to survivors of last month's terrorist attacks.

''These groups have stepped in and filled the breach and shown what they can do,'' he said. ''We should give them a chance to do more.''

Bush's initiative passed the House in July, but the Senate has taken no action, partly because its chief Democratic supporter, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, objects to a provision allowing religious organizations that receive federal funds to take religious views into account when hiring.

Lieberman spokesperson Dan Gerstein said the senator is ''optimistic we can reach a compromise, but we need a little more time and it may have to wait until next year. It is a complicated issue, and since Sept. 11, many people's attention has been focused elsewhere.''

Religious charities are permitted to receive grants from a small number of federal programs. The House-passed legislation would expand the list significantly to cover areas such as housing, domestic violence prevention and hunger relief.

Aid recipients could not be required to attend worship services or religious instruction, and individuals would be offered access to assistance from nonreligious organizations, if they desired. The organizations themselves would be permitted to keep religious names and symbols on building walls.

The bill also includes a series of tax breaks -- worth $13 billion over the next decade -- to encourage charitable giving by individuals and corporations.

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