The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – today welcomed the introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to implement President Bush’s initiative to expand the partnership between faith and community based social service agencies and the government. The legislation was introduced by Congressmen J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Tony Hall (D-OH).
Designated the “Community Solutions Act,” the legislation contains three components. One component encourages charitable giving through a charitable tax deduction for the more than 84 million Americans who do not itemize their tax returns. Additionally, the act would allow Americans to transfer assets from an IRA into a charitable giving plan without incurring income tax penalties, and would encourage increased food donations through several changes in current tax law. A second component creates Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) to enable working-poor families to save, build wealth, and enter the financial mainstream, by providing a tax credit to banks for matching deposits by low income people.
The third component of the bill offers the expansion of “charitable choice,” the ability of faith-based social service providers to apply for and receive government grants to fund their good works. The bill would expand the charitable choice concept to federal grant programs that address juvenile delinquency, crime prevention, housing development, child care, domestic violence and job training. The bill safeguards the rights of service beneficiaries by insisting that a person be notified that he may opt not to participate in the faith-based program and will be provided with a readily accessible alternative program should he so desire. The bill safeguards the rights of faith-based providers by ensuring that the government will not force them to alter their religious character or personnel policies. And the bill safeguards the interests of the government by insisting that faith-based providers receiving federal grants will be subject to the same accounting requirements as other non-governmental grantees.
Reacting to the bill’s introduction, Nathan Diament, the Union’s public policy director, stated that “the Watts-Hall Community Solutions Act strikes the right balance between ensuring that faith-based social service providers will be treated neutrally, not with hostility, by government grant programs and ensuring that needy individuals will not be subjected to undesired religious coercion. It is a welcome step forward in this effort and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations looks forward to congressional hearings on this initiative and the passage of the legislation.”