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Romney Took Few Steps to Ease Path For Faith Groups

Photo credit: Lauren Burke, WDCPix

During Mitt Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, he took only a few steps to help faith-based groups increase their access to public contracts to provide social services.

But the governor made one high-profile move that showed his commitment to the issue: Romney appointed his wife, Ann, in 2005 as an unpaid liaison to religious and community groups in the state. Her job was to help them compete for federal funding.

“I work with inner city at-risk youth," she told ABC News last year, "and we find that a lot of the black churches in the inner city have been very, very helpful in being there on the ground, helping these kids, really making a difference in their lives. I’m very supportive of that, of trying to find anyone that’s helping, give them a hand, as well.”

Romney, a Mormon, has faced difficult questions about the role his religion might play in his public life. While he said some faith-based groups do a better job at helping poor families than some government social service agencies, he made clear that his support for such groups is limited to their secular work. “Helping them in a religious role… would be unacceptable,” he said in the same ABC interview, appearing with his wife in the early stages of his presidential campaign.

Analysts dispute the level of state-level action required to help faith-based groups tap federal money. A relatively low level of activity on this front, as seen in Romney’s administration, is not an indication that state groups were necessarily disadvantaged in the process. But advocates of faith-based groups say governors can play an important role in setting the tone in their state.

While governor, from 2003 to 2007, Romney provided new short-term aid to faith-based groups that provided help in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. He also continued a program that his predecessor, William Weld, began to include faith-based groups in programs that educate clergy and others in how to combat domestic violence.

Massachusetts did not follow the lead of other states, including Arkansas, and make changes in its contracting procedures to ease the way for faith-based groups. Nor did it offer start-up grants to new faith-based service providers.

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