Many expected that the White House would quickly find a replacement for DiIulio for an initiative that the president considers the centerpiece of his domestic policy. But things seem to be moving forward very smoothly, without a department head, under the watchful eyes of Karl Rove and John Bridgeland in the White House political office. The faith-based office itself does have one new key player, David Quo, a newly arrived refugee from the dot.com world.
The events of Sept. 11 may have slowed work on a variety of domestic fronts but they added an impetus for passing this legislation: Social services of all kinds, including faith-based, have been running low on resources after the deluge of the past two months. Once again faith-based organizations demonstrated how central they are to meeting America's needs, whether there's a crisis or not.
The new legislation is designed to avoid the partisan snarl that enveloped the House version, known as H.R. 7, this past April. The principle of "charitable choice" is missing, but many of the barriers that presently stand between federal money and faith-based social services are targeted for destruction. Case in point, the so-called "experience" criteria that effectively keep any organization that has not previously received a federal grant in the past.
This legislation will likely stipulate that faith-based providers cannot be discriminated against because of their religious nature. Their right to religious symbols and icons will also be protected.
The bill also envisions a Compassion Capital Fund providing training and assistance for those seeking to create non-profit organizations. These organizations will be shown how to access federal social service funds and to comply with existing Charitable Choice laws.
Incentives for charitable giving include a charitable deduction for non-itemizers, an IRA charitable rollover for charitable contributions from individuals 59.5 years old or older, a higher cap for corporate charitable deductions from 10 percent to 25 percent of modified taxable income, a food donation tax incentive to provide enhanced deduction for food donations by farmers, restaurants, and all business taxpayers, and lowering the excise tax on private foundations.
Another interesting and ambitious program being considered is Individual Development Accounts -- tax credits to match savings accounts for low-income workers. IDAs can be used only for buying a first home, post-secondary education or training, or starting or expanding a small business. The individual's account is not mingled with the matching deposits; the federal matching dollars are kept in a separate account.
This is not an exhaustive list, nor is there any guarantee that all these programs will make it into the final version of the Senate legislation. But what's being discussed shows that the White House and the Congress is determined to stimulate individual and corporate philanthropy, funnel federal dollars to a new spectrum of faith-based social services, and make it clear that their religious character will not be sacrificed in the process.
(Deal W. Hudson is publisher and editor of Crisis, a monthly magazine that surveys the political, spiritual and cultural landscape from a Roman Catholic perspective.)