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Pallone, Ministers Blast GOP Attacks on Churches Who Engage in Non-partisan Voting Efforts

Location: Trenton, NJ

December 20, 2005

Legislation Prevents Churches From Receiving Housing Grants

Trenton, NJ --- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rev. Reginald Jackson and other members of the Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey today assailed House Republicans in Washington for restricting religious organizations from engaging in nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities if they want to fulfill a mission of providing affordable housing to low-income families. The New Jersey congressman was joined by the ministers at a press conference this afternoon at the State House in Trenton.

In October, the House debated a bill reforming federal home loan organizations, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which establishes a new non-taxpayer financed Affordable Housing Fund for low-income families.

The legislation calls for five-percent of the after-tax profits from both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to be dedicated to the production, preservation and rehabilitation of rental housing and first-time homebuyers in urban and rural areas. The fund is expected to provide more than $2 billion in critically needed funds for affordable housing over five years.

However, Conservative Republicans succeeded in including a provision that will make it virtually impossible for church and religious organizations to qualify for Affordable Housing Funds. The legislation bars nonprofit organizations, including those that are faith-based, from receiving federal funds if they engage in nonpartisan voting activities 12 months prior to applying for the grant.

"Washington Republicans will do anything to suppress the vote of low-income Americans," Pallone said. "For years, New Jersey churches have played a critical non-partisan role in assisting their congregants with the voting process. Churches should not be forced into choosing between helping the most vulnerable find housing or providing civic assistance."

Conservative Republicans also included a provision requiring a non-profit applying for a grant to have as its sole primary purpose affordable housing. Pallone said this restriction renders ineligible most churches and faith-based groups, many of which directly engage in housing programs for seniors, as well as most local social welfare groups and many nonprofits that build housing for the disabled and elderly.

"House Republicans want to force American churches to change their mission in order to assist those most in need," Pallone continued. "Essentially, they are telling our churches that they simply cannot be trusted. I am hopeful that these provisions will be pulled out of the bill when the Senate debates it next year."

Pallone opposed including these two provisions in the overall bill. He supported an amendment that would have stripped both provisions from the legislation. Unfortunately, this motion to recommit was defeated by a vote of 200-220, with only three Republicans joining every Democrat to eliminate the controversial provisions.

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