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Bush Courts Hispanics With 'Choice'

May 22, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush sought to solidify his ties with Hispanics on Tuesday, outlining for Latino clergy his plan to give government money to religious charities and declaring America ``richer because of the Hispanic influence.''

Bush met with 120 ministers at the White House and received pledges of support for his ``charitable choice'' proposal, under which religious groups could compete for federal funds to provide social services without abandoning religious elements of their programs.

Bush assured them, ``You will have a friend and an advocate in this administration.''

He noted that charitable choice already is law for welfare programs, some education scholarships and Medicare and Medicaid hospital funding.

The government ``must never be so arrogant as to say, `You can't fulfill your mission if you access federal money; therefore you have to change the entire mission of why you exist,''' Bush said.

``I understand the frustrations of some in the faith-based community and the nervousness as they approach this issue. ... We will work tirelessly to make sure that bureaucracies don't stifle the very reason you exist in the first place and the power of your ministries.''

Before the meeting, Bush greeted about 60 supporters of the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund at a White House briefing on Bush's education proposals. The fund has granted more than 45,000 scholarships to Hispanic college students in the United States and Puerto Rico since 1975.

``Our country is richer because of the Hispanic influence,'' Bush said. ``I know. I come from a state that has a tremendous Hispanic influence. ... We are one nation under God, which means every child should be viewed as a precious individual, every child should be educated, and no child should be left behind.''

Tuesday's efforts were the latest in the White House's courtship of Hispanics, no doubt fueled by recent census figures reflecting that the number of Mexican-Americans had grown 53 percent over the last decade, fueling a surge in the Hispanic population. In last year's election, Bush got 35 percent of the Hispanic vote.

The president declared he did not put forth his charitable choice plan for political gain. He told the ministers that when people say they're praying for him, ``They're not saying it's a Democrat prayer or a Republican prayer. It's just prayer.''

The Rev. Luis Cortez, of Philadelphia, chairman of the National Hispanic Religious Partnership, said it is not clear whether Bush's efforts will translate ultimately into greater political support among Latinos, even if his charitable choice proposal is a success.

``No, because we don't have Bush's picture on our wall,'' Cortez said. ``This particular piece here might, but once it gets through the legislative process, and we're talking a year or two down the line, I don't see it connected as much at that point.''

Rudy Corrasco of Pasadena, Calif., who works with the National Association of Inner-City Youth Ministries, said the issue transcends politics.

``There is a tremendous need in the inner city to reach out to Latino youth who are struggling, whether immigrant or native born,'' Corrasco said. ``We need every resource we can get.''

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