Mr. Chairman, Senator Bryan, Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here this morning to update you on the progress of the federal response to the church burnings. If it pleases the Subcommittee, I would like my testimony entered into the record. Thank you.
I am pleased to join the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury here today, as well as our partners in the National Rebuilding Initiative - Dr. Pennybacker from the National Council of Churches and Dr. Naphen Allen of the National Congress of Black Churches. We at HUD join with them in commending the members of this Committee and other Members of Congress for your leadership on this issue.
Mr. Chairman, the story of church burnings in America over the past few years is a story with two bookends, one a bookend of discrimination and anger, the other a bookend of hope and renewal. In between is a story of national faith, devotion, and humanity -- the best chapters of which are still being written today.
It was a little over 16 months ago when federal officials first detected a rise in the number of attacks on our nation's houses of worship. Since January 1995, 451 arsons, bombings, or attempted bombings occurred at places of worship -- 451 acts of cowardice and contempt. While not the majority of churches hit, predominately African-American churches (representing 171 of the 451 churches burned) were disproportionately hit. The majority of the burnings occurred in the South, but also in New York, and as far away as Seattle. No denomination was spared -- church, mosque, synagogue, Baptist, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox all fell victim.
Mr. Chairman, there are few t rings more egregious than the burning of a house of worship. It is by its very nature a problem that touches us all. If we are one society, one culture, one America, then burning one church or one mosque or one synagogue bums us all. As the President has said, arson attacks on churches are an affront to basic liberty and religious tolerance, posing a challenge not just to those houses of worship that are burned, but to the entire nation and our future as a common community.
That is why the President and the Members of this Committee acted so quickly to respond to this tragedy. Just over a year ago -- thanks to the impassioned bipartisan leadership of you, Senator Faircloth, and Senator Kennedy, among others -- the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 was quickly enacted by Congress and on July 3, 1996, was signed by the President into law.
As you know, the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 established a three-part federal response to this tragedy.
Response number one was enforcement -- to track down those people responsible for these heinous crimes and bring them to justice. Attorney General Janet Reno and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin have been spearheading this effort through the National Church Arson Task Force. Progress has been made. All told, 216 suspects have been arrested, and 133 people have been convicted.
Response number two was prevention -- to do all we could to prevent future fires from occurring. FEMA Director James Lee Witt has been coordinating with state and local officials to increase awareness of arson prevention.
Response number three was to rebuild. And not just to rebuild -- but to build better, stronger, and more fire-resistant than before. Under the Act, HUD's Office of Community Planning and Development -- which I was proud to serve as Assistant Secretary before I became Secretary -- was given authority to administer a $1 0 million loan guarantee ftind geared toward financial institutions who make loans to 501 (c)(3) organizations that have been damaged as a result of terrorism or arson.
The Act allows the Secretary of HUD to guarantee up to an aggregate principal of $ 1 0 million in private sector loans, including a credit subsidy of $5 million.
Specifically, the purpose of the program is to guarantee private sector loans to assist non- profit organizations, including churches, in financing the rebuilding of facilities damaged or destroyed by arson or terrorism. This program offers an important option in assisting churches who don't otherwise have the resources to rebuild their facilities. But we also realize that loans are hit by arson. For reasons we can all understand, some churches are unable or reluctant to take on additional debt burdens.
Since the passage and signing of the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, much progress has been made. 'Me numbers alone tell part of the story.
Our response was broken down into two phases. Phase one focused on churches that were victimized by the time the Act was passed last July. Phase two targeted churches that were the victims of arson or terrorism since last summer.
Under phase one, we came in contact with more than 125 churches. We found that:
Mr. Chairman, those are the numbers through the first year, but the numbers alone don't tell the real story of the first year of the national effort to rebuild.
The real story is a story of partnership and participation. From the very beginning, it was clear to us that in order to maximize the opportunity presented by the loan guarantee and relief package, we needed to reach out and join hands with the private sector and nonprofit organizations.
By talking to ministers and financial institutions, we learned that before churches and other non-profit organizations were ready to apply for a loan, they needed help in completing loan applications, and even more, in establishing workable rebuilding plans. In response, the Office of Community Planning and Development launched the National Rebuilding Initiative, a unique partnership between public, private, and nonprofit organizations with one goal in mind: to maximize our rebuilding dollars and coordinate our rebuilding efforts.
In my mind, the'private resources leveraged by the $ 1 0 million loan guarantee program set up by the Church Arson Prevention Act is the real success story of the first year.
When this process began, there was a national outpouring of concerned citizens. Organizations with names like Habitat for Humanity, the AFL-CIO, the Ford Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, Morgan Guarantee, the Enterprise Foundation., United Methodist Volunteers in Service, the American Institute of Architects, the Mennonite Disaster Services, GE Capital Corporation, International Paper -- and above all, the National Council of Churches and the National Congress of Black Churches -- all wanted to help rebuild. The problem was, last year at this time, there was no coordinated effort to combine those voices and efforts into one.
Enter the National Rebuilding initiative. Co-chaired by the HUD, the National Council of Churches, and the Congress of National Black Churches, this partnership coordinates all aspects of rebuilding. The partners are working together not just to disseminate information and sponsor conferences, but to work one-on-one with the congregations impacted by the burnings. The process includes assessments of the financial support system each place of worship needs to rebuild.
It also allows us to meet our other goal: not just to rebuild, but to build better. We have on this committee all the resources we need. The architects are here. Construction and engineering? We have it. Finance? We have it. Lawyers? We have them. We have all the pieces in place to help churches build better, stronger, and bigger than they were before.
These resources take many different forms: grants, low-interest loans, materials and in- kind donations, volunteers, pro-bono contributions, insurance services, hate crimes counseling, as well as arson prevention. Once in place, our partnership members sit down with the local congregations to come up with plans, not just to rebuild but to finance.
Last fall, in conjunction with our partners, we held five regional conferences -- in cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee, and Columbia, South Carolina -- to provide information about HUD's loan guarantee program as well as other aspects of rebuilding. Each conference offered different sessions with expert panelists, providing construction and architectural advice as well as assistance with completing loan applications. HUD coordinated the conferences with other Federal agencies, the Governors' offices and many other organizations.
This colaboration on training conferences was just one example of the overall multi-agency collaboration of the National Rebuilding Task Force. At these conferences, we saw all sectors of the community come together to help rebuild the houses of worship: the faith community, the business community, the non-profit community and the governmental community have all taken a role in assisting the rebuilding process. HUD plans to hold additional regional workshops for those church members whose houses of worship were destroyed in 1997 and for others who were unable to attend prior workshops.
Above all, HUD has worked with it spartners to leverage additional financial resources to support rebuilding. Where the federal government offers loan guarantees, many of our partners are able to offer grants.
The National Council of Churches -- which includes 33 member church bodies representing 141,000 congregations - has been an integral partner to the National Rebuilding Initiative. The NCC has raised over $8.5 million in direct and in-kind contributions to support the rebuilding efforts, and has awarded $4.7 million cash grants to 90 churches.
The NCC has provided direct rebuilding grants as well for in-kindmaterials such as lumber and other building materials, pews, choir robes, and hymnals. In addition, NCC has joined with Habitat for Humanity to provide a network of volunteer specialists and laborers to . assist with all aspects of the rebuilding efforts. Habitat has estimated that I 5,000 Americans have volunteered to help rebuild churches in the past year. 7he estimated monetary value of this volunteer labor to date is $780,000 and is expected to top $1 million by the end of this summer.
At the same time, in February, the Congress of National Black Churches - representing 65,000 churches, with a membership of more than 15 million people - increased its partnership role in the National Rebuilding Initiative. They have begun a direct grant program of nearly $12 million, with three goals: to rebuild 50 churches over the next three years, to prevent and eliminate church arson, and to promote ecumenical and multi-racial inclusiveness.
I'd like to take a moment to applaud both the NCC and the CNBC for their leadership and dedication -- not only toward the rebuilding effort -- but to rebuilding the spiritual foundation of our society.
This partnership is a good example of cooperation at work. The partners work to make sure that all efforts undertaken by each are shared by all. For example, databases of information are shared and updates are provided. HUD has participated in the assessment process of, or contributed to the design of, assessment tools used by the NCC and CNBC- We will continue to participate in the assessment process, on-site visits, and workshops to apprise those affected by acts of arson or terrorism.
HUD is also working with individual financial institutions, pairing them as necessary with churches ready to receive loan assistance. We are also working toward a partnership with banks under which each bank partner will set aside a pool of loan funds targeted specifically to the loan guarantee program.
On June 10th, I had the pleasure ofjoining Vice President Al Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and FEMA Administrator James Lee Witt at a meeting with approximately 60 ministers from churches that had burned across the country. Yes, 90 churches have been rebuilt or are under construction and 64 are in the pre-planning stages. But we all know: our work is not yet through. We have a long way to go. But we also know that the partnership formed through the National Rebuilding Initiative will continue to produce dividends well beyond the $ 1 0 million loan guarantee the Act established -- not j ust to rebuild the physical structure, but also to heal broken relationships and begin new ones.
As Vice President Gore said that day, "a lot of good has come out of this tragedy, but we should not rest." In the end, we're not just rebuilding communities -- this partnership is helping to rebuild a sense of community. Those who burned churches thought they would pull us apart. Instead, they brought us together. It's not enough just to catch the people who did this, or to rebuild what they tore down -- all of us have to work together to end the atmosphere of hatred that helped create it.
As President John F. Kennedy said after the tragic 1962 burning of a church in Birmingham where four little girls were killed: "If these cruel and tragic events can only awaken that city and State -- if they can only awaken this entire nation -- to a realization of the folly of racial injustice and hatred and violence, then it is not too late for all concerned to unite in steps toward peacefid progress."
We know one thing: we're only going to get there if we work together. And that's
exactly how it should be.
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