RWJF Expands Faith-Based Assistance Program
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced plans to expand its Faith in Action program, awarding $100 million in grants over the next six years to create 2,000 new interfaith programs assisting senior citizens and people with disabilities, the Chicago Tribune reports (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 2/9). The program, begun in 1993, provides home-based volunteer services, care and companionship to people with chronic health conditions. Under the expansion, "tens of thousands of volunteers each year" will assist the elderly and disabled in conducting tasks such as shopping for groceries, paying bills and visiting the doctor. The Tribune reports that Faith in Action is an example of the faith-based social services that President Bush "praised" last month while introducing a new White House office to provide federal funding to such programs. Participants in the RWJF program come from "multiple congregations, not a single religious tradition," and are "strict[ly]" prohibited from "proselytizing or making religion a criterion for receiving service" (Chicago Tribune, 2/9).
In the wake of Bush's announcement, the Washington Post profiles the Camillus Life Center, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment facility in Miami, as both an example of an institution that might benefit from the Bush plan and the reason that some critics have accused the plan of violating the separation of church and state. Although Camillus is a Catholic facility, officials never ask a potential client if he is a Christian, "nor do they refuse anyone who rejects their beliefs." But some form of spirituality is often implicit in the healing process at Camillus and other Florida faith-based agencies, the Post reports, explaining that many programs "operate on the conviction that the troubled can best help themselves only if they are willing to address their spiritual deficiencies." Most of the clients at Camillus are Baptists, and their treatment is similar to that found at Alcoholics Anonymous, "with an emphasis on a higher power and group therapy," Pat Cawley, the center's program administrator, said. According to Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, federal funding of faith-based programs like Camillus would cross the line dividing religion and government. He said, "There has been for generations in this country a contractual agreement between state and federal governments and religiously affiliated organizations, and we are dependent on that and they have added immeasurably to the welfare of the country. But why, in the eyes of the president, is that not sufficient? I think there is an agenda here -- to fund the religious missions of these organizations" (Pressley, Washington Post, 2/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.