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Sister Mary Ann Walsh

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The ABC Factor at Health and Human Services: Anybody But Catholics

Posted: 10/17/2011 6:00 pm

There seems to be a new unwritten reg at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It's the ABC Rule: Anybody But Catholics.

It showed up in a letter from HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to advise the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Office of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) that it would not receive a grant to continue its services for victims of human trafficking.

The USCCB program excelled because of its anytime-anywhere approach. It had extraordinary reach, something valued by people who work to free men, women and children from slavery. Because of USCCB's organizational capacity, MRS could respond immediately. Should an Immigration Enforcement official find a vulnerable child, for example, a call to the MRS program got safe housing immediately. There was not the delay of weeks that one associates with programs that lack such a network.

The program worked well on the ground. But not so well for distant administrators promoting the abortion and contraceptive agenda, who bristle at the fact that, in accord with church teaching, USCCB won't facilitate taking innocent life, sterilization and artificial contraception. MRS anti-trafficking programs ran successfully for six years in harmony with these moral convictions until the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit against the government for not forcing the USCCB program to provide these services as a part of the program. The suit's outcome is pending, but ORR apparently has made its own decision apart from any judgment of the court. So much for the Administration's guarantee of conscience protection.

That's the climate that allowed ORR to dismiss the USCCB proposal and instead award grant money to the United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, (USCRI), Heartland and Tapestri. ORR even awarded more money than it said it would in the original proposal. ORR earmarked most of the money for USCRI. Eskinder Negash, current director of the ORR, had been vice-president and chief operating officer at USCRI before joining ORR in 2009.

The ORR's request for proposals had stated that agencies receiving the money were to be fully operational 10 days after being awarded the grant. That would have been Oct. 10. One wonders how that could have happened since USCRI and Heartland reportedly were posting ads seeking to hire staff just a few days before that date. None of the three organizations has much depth of experience in monitoring and providing services. USCCB staff were given a number to call for a smooth transition for the people served by the anti-trafficking program. Those who called it found no one could answer their questions.

Trafficking of human beings is one of the great modern-day scandals, but at least until now the U.S. government sought to sincerely address the issue. It asked USCCB for help when regional programs weren't reaching victims outside the usual hotspots for trafficking. USCCB created an extraordinary program in conjunction with several partners, Christian and secular, including Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services, Salvation Army, YMCA affiliates, domestic violence shelters, World Relief and others. Only one-third of its subcontractors were Catholic-affiliated, but with the USCCB infrastructure they reached virtually everywhere in the USA.

Now, ORR seems to have yielded to abortion politics. It has undercut a worthy program, limiting the numbers served, while increasing the time and money it will take to serve them.

Apparently, HHS rules about the benefits of experience and cost effectiveness can be waived. So can rules about being fully operational by a certain date. What can't be waived is the new, albeit unwritten rule of HHS, the ABC rule -- Anybody But Catholics.

 

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