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Obama on board with faith-based program; Jews, too

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Sen. Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he wants to expand President Bush’s federal program to give money to faith-based charities (read the New York Times’ report on it).

“The fact is, the challenges we face today — from saving our planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Obama told a crowd in Zanesville, Ohio.

Having a left-wing presidential candidate not just endorse the faith-based initiative program, but advocate giving it more money would have been unfathomable seven and a half years ago, when Bush initiated the program.

Then, the plan was met by much acrimony, especially in the Jewish world, by those who feared it would blur the line between church and state and turn into a way for Bush to funnel money into the hands of evangelical Christian groups.

But nearly a decade later, those in the Jewish world appear on board.

According to William Daroff, the UJC’s vice president for public policy and the director of its advocacy office in Washington, support for continuing the faith-based program has less to do with being able to get money from the government than it does with the fact that the program actually made it easier for faith-based programs to cut through governmental bureaucracy.

Through the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the government opened a number of offices within Washington that give faith-based programs an inside track to communicate with key cabinet positions.

“Now, if we have a problem with HUD, in addition to the normal channels we would use there is another channel to help work our way through the maze,” Daroff said. “One of my concerns had been that when either Obama or McCain became president, these offices would close for whatever reason, be it the because of the church-state issue or simply because it was a project of the old president.”

No such worry if Obama is elected. He already wants to earmark $500 million per year to provide summer learning for 1 million poor children and has proposed “elevating the program to the ‘moral center’ of his administration, calling it the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships,” according to the Times.

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