Cumberland Times-News

March 3, 2013

Religious charities rely on state funding

Becca Heller

— ANNAPOLIS — Religious-affiliated charities in Maryland drew in more than $70 million in funding from the state last year — which may come as a surprise since stark lines are often drawn between church and state.

Some of Maryland’s largest church-based cha-rities receive the bulk of their funding from the state, according to charity leaders and the Department of Budget and Management’s spending database. Through a symbiotic relationship, the churches and state provide social and health services to those in need. A large portion of the funds come through Medicaid for health care costs.

Religious-affiliated cha-rities are able to work directly with the people in Maryland in a way that the state cannot, and because of this the government relies on these organizations to maintain the welfare of its constituents.

“Local services do end up providing the bulk of care right now,” said Courtney Malengo, public relations director for National Lutheran Communities & Services. “There’s going to come a time where the government can’t possibly provide the care people need and it falls upon social service groups to do that.”

National Lutheran Communities & Services is the second-largest recipient of Maryland state funding, receiving more than $6.5 million in 2012, according to the Department of Budget and Management’s database. This money, which accounted for 68 percent of the NLCS annual budget in Maryland, went toward providing health care to elderly people that NLCS houses each year.

Ausburg Lutheran Home, which like NLCS provides care for the elderly, also received a significant amount of money — about 64 percent of its $10.8 million budget — from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for Medicaid.

“Medicare will pay for care in a nursing home for a short period of time and then what happens is you transfer to Medicaid or you pay privately,” said Diane Webb, the chief financial officer at Ausburg.

While the vast majority of state funding to religious charities comes from the DHMH and goes toward health care costs, some of the biggest charities saw an influx of money from other state departments as well.

Catholic Charities of Baltimore, the largest charitable organization in Maryland and the top recipient of state funding among religious-affiliated groups, received almost $28 million from the state. The majority of this — about $20 million — came from DHMH and went toward providing health care. However, about $8 million came from other departments, including the department of Education Aging, Housing and Community Development, Juvenile Services, and several other state departments looking to channel their services through the organization.

“I think it should be noted that this is a valuable partnership between the state and these religious social service providers,” said Kathy Dempsey, communications director of Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic dioceses. “(The charity groups) operate schools, shelters, prison ministries, parish outreach centers ... there are all kinds of programs”

Catholic Charities is able to offer a broader range of services due to the large size of the organization and the millions it has received from various state departments.

“The Catholic Church is the largest social service provider in Maryland,” said Dempsey.

“Our concern is for the vulnerable in our society.”

The charity doesn’t stop at the local level. Catholic Relief Services, based out of Baltimore, is one of the largest international outreach programs in the country and church’s official overseas relief organization. While CRS focuses its services abroad and raises money from American Catholics, this organization also receives the majority of its budget — 72 percent in fact — from the U.S. government.

CRS, like Catholic Charities, offers a broad range of disaster relief services — from food aid and health care to human trafficking prevention.

Without government funding, many of these social service groups wouldn’t have as much financial muscle to provide services to people, and without these charities, the need to provide public social services would be far beyond the government’s capacity.