By Hamil R. Harris and Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 2, 2006
After Hurricane Katrina struck, President Bush enlisted a coalition of clergy from across the nation to distribute part of the $110 million in private funds that his father and former president Bill Clinton raised to help victims of the storm.
But six months later, Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the ministers selected by Bush, said that not a dime of the $20 million designated for faith organizations along the Gulf Coast has arrived. He blames the fund led by Clinton and former president George H.W. Bush for not coming up with a plan to distribute the money to churches and other faith-based organizations.
"I am annoyed. I am frustrated. I am angry," said Jakes, who is co-chairman of an advisory panel set up to help the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund distribute the $20 million to churches. "We need to focus more on rebuilding our country."
In December, Jakes; former representative William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), the other co-chairman; and the other members of the advisory panel held hearings in New Orleans. More than 2,000 pastors testified about their hardships, and according to one prominent minister, some wondered when they would see any of the money from the Bush-Clinton fund.
"It is really embarrassing," said Bishop Paul Morton, pastor of the 20,000-member Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. "We had all of these preachers coming together, about 2,000 filled out applications and there is still no money. They are all blaming Bishop Jakes, but he doesn't have the authority over the money. It is not his fault."
Bush-Clinton fund spokesman Bill Pierce said that the fund plans to distribute the money "as fast as possible," but that a decision on which church or organization will receive funds has not been made.
"We can't rush it and risk not doing it right," Pierce said.
Adding to the ministers' frustration is that the Bush-Clinton fund has begun to distribute $30 million to 32 universities and colleges along the Gulf Coast, and most of those checks have gone out, Pierce said. But deciding how to distribute $20 million among a much larger universe of houses of worship is "a bit more challenging," he said.
Jakes said he was honored that Bush selected him for the panel but believes things are moving too slowly.
"The churches are the embassies that our people run to for help, and you have an unprecedented amount of people who now need help," he said. "Children are displaced; they can't find their parents. The country should be embarrassed by its slow response."
Jakes, who has been criticized by several black leaders for being too close to the Bush administration, said he is concerned that the country is forgetting about the plight of New Orleans.
"When people saw the images of Mardi Gras and celebrating, you get the impression that things are okay in New Orleans, but things are not okay," he said. "There is unbelievable frustration. We need this money. This is the tip of the iceberg; we need a lot more money than the Bush-Clinton Katrina fund can deliver."
Gray, who also was the director of the United Negro College Fund, "I want to credit President Bush for remembering that religious institutions are part of the building process." But, he added, "Every minute is critical."