Black Churches Missing Out On Federal Aid

African American church leaders from across the country were invited to the White House to stand with President Bush as he detailed a plan to help churches and community groups gain access to millions of federal dollars to provide day care, drug abuse counseling, and other needed services. But five years after the faith-based initiative, a study found that only a fraction of African American churches surveyed obtained grants.

The report, released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, states that only 2.6% of the 750 African American churches that received government queries for grants actually received funding. Some 47% of them had congregations located in the Northeast and 26% in the South.

In January 2001, President Bush signed into law an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The order directed federal agencies to streamline or lift, if possible, federal regulations that made it difficult for churches to obtain grants to provide services. Still, few black churches have benefited from the plan thus far, while skepticism about accepting federal dollars and a lack of understanding about how to apply for the money may keep many congregations from going after the funds.

“The biggest surprise in the study was that the grants were more likely to go to more liberal churches in the Northeast. These are the same states that Bush lost in the 2004 election,” says David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center. “The study found that if there were any political intent in terms of this program, it is not working.”

The Joint Center study found that 75% of the churches questioned were vaguely aware of the initiative and 66% didn’t have a clear understanding of the rules required to get a grant. “The administration has not been successful in informing the black ministers about the nature of the program,” says Bositis. “Historically, the single largest source of money for the churches has come from the members of the congregation as opposed to the government or outside sources. This is not going to change. The members of the congregation will always be the chief source of money for churches.”

Alyssa J. McClenning, spokeswoman for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, says the office has provided training to more than 25,000 faith-based and community leaders and that it aims to continue to expand its educational outreach. The office has hosted regional conferences designed to help social service providers understand the process required to obtain grants and tutored participants on how to write grant proposals.

Even with those efforts, many black churches have hesitated to apply for the grants. At a September Congressional Black Caucus forum which included Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), who is also a minister; Bishop T.D. Jakes; Pastor Floyd Flake, a former congressman; and Rev. James T. Meeks, a Chicago pastor and state senator, an audience member asked if pastors who had accepted faith-based grants had “sold out.”

During the CBC forum, entitled “Evolution of the Black Church and African