Nearly a year after President George W. Bush asked Bishop T. D. Jakes and former Rep. Bill Gray to co-chair an interfaith committee, both men have quit their posts, claiming their efforts were undermined. Jakes and Gray had been responsible for recommending which houses of worship would receive grants from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.
Through the Fund, former presidents Bush and Clinton raised nearly $130 million for projects that would bring economic opportunity and improved quality of life to the Gulf Coast. The panel of clergy was responsible for advising on the distribution process of the $20 million earmarked for churches, synagogues, and mosques.
But according to Jakes, what began as a good idea turned into a bureaucratic nightmare, in which administrators of the larger fund disbursed money to churches that were not on the panel’s radar.
“Our cautions were ignored, the protocol that we all agreed on was disregarded, and we were expected to shut up and obey,” says Jakes. “As a result, the majority of the committee members chose not to be enslaved by a system that disrespected us, failed to protect the fund’s resources, and decreased the probability that those who need the most will receive the best.” According to some reports, eight of nine committee members resigned.
Gray, former head of the United Negro College Fund, added that he had no choice but to resign. “The bottom line is that the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund staff did not consult with us,” Gray says.
Members of the interfaith panel had interviewed religious leaders whose congregations had been destroyed or damaged in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The committee also established a grant application process and had hoped to distribute all of the money by the one-year anniversary of Katrina.
The trouble began after the grant ceiling was raised from $35,000 to $200,000. According to Jakes, the number of applicants made it possible to increase the size of the grants, which they did to provide more funding in areas where there was more damage. “The board overthrew the protocol that they had approved with us,” Jakes says. “It was when they changed their own guidelines, failed to inform us, and checks were rolling out the door to churches without us, even knowing who was getting what, that we resigned.”
Bill Pierce, spokesperson for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, says, “The panel approved 38 grants, mostly of $35,000, and the fund sent out letters to those 38 institutions announcing their award. Since that time other grants have been approved.”
The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund is co-chaired by Alexis Herman, who served as secretary of labor under Clinton, and Don Evans, former secretary of commerce under the current President Bush. In a joint statement, Herman and Evans thanked Jakes and Gray for their efforts and announced that the fund was on track and had already given out $65.2 million in grants.
Jakes says they have not forgotten about Katrina’s victims. “We must continue speaking up for those who cannot speak on this matter,” he says. “We resigned from the interfaith advisory board,