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Advocacy Groups Anxious to See How Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives Will Work

Aired January 30, 2001 - 2:43 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: This week, President Bush has introduced several faith-based initiatives designed to reshape how we care for our children, heal the sick and offer aid to the poor.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor is standing by in Washington with more on this. Hi, Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra. Well, the president says that some of the specifics will involve allowing people to -- who don't itemize on their taxes to actually deduct contributions to faith-based organizations and to community-based organizations. Also allowing these organizations to access about $10 billion in federal funds that is earmarked for social services.

With me is Patty Mullahy. She is the director of the Legal Clinic for the Homeless here in Washington, D.C. Thanks for joining us. I just wanted to ask you, what do you see as the positive side of this program?

PATRICIA MULLAHY FUGERE, WASHINGTON LEGAL CLINIC FOR THE HOMELESS: Well, I think the most positive thing is that it's an indication that there is recognition at the highest levels of government that there remain serious unmet human needs in our communities around the country. What we're hoping is that the recognition is not just one of words, but one which brings resources also to address those needs.

O'CONNOR: So, and also, what's the downside? I mean, your clinic is only funded privately funded. Even though you could access government funds, you don't. Why not?

FUGERE: Well, that's right. There are some government monies available for legal services like my clinic provides, but we seek only private funds because I don't want to have any concerns about constraints that might be placed on the activities that we can be involved with on behalf of our clients, and there are strings that come attached to the receipt of different kind of government funding and government contracts.

O'CONNOR: Would you be concerned, perhaps, that you wouldn't take up a case that might be critical of the government? Is that the kind of thing you're worried about? FUGERE: Well, I think there's a perception perhaps that advocacy activities could be controlled by either, you know, dangling the carrot of additional funds in front of an organization or perhaps withholding funds if an organization took on certain kinds of perhaps critical of the government advocacy activities.

And we've seen that happen with service providers in our community here in Washington, D.C., both faith-based and community- based organizations that get government money and become more reticent to speak out on issues about -- that involve injustices to the clients that our organizations serve. They're afraid that the government funding might be withdrawn.

O'CONNOR: So as -- thank you very much. As can you see, Kyra, there are pluses and minuses and what most of the people in these organizations agree is that this is going to have to be a program that is administered very carefully. The devil, they say, is in the details -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And we'll be following those details. Eileen O'Connor, thanks so much.

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