Federal funds allocated for a new youth center for low-income families in Glendale are in jeopardy this week after a government warning that the proposed use of the funds may violate the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.
The Glendale City Council in April allocated $155,000 of the city's share of federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the Catholic Youth Organization Center in Glendale. The youth group needs $215,000 to build the first phase of a new and larger center to replace its outdated and severely crowded facility at 4322 San Fernando Road.
But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has cautioned the city that allotments to the Catholic youth group and to the Young Women's Christian Assn. "may be prohibited." In addition to funds for a new youth center, the City Council earmarked $14,000 for the salary of a CYO youth recreation leader and $5,000 for architectural schematics for a proposed YWCA building.
Glendale city officials have sent the bylaws of both the CYO and the YWCA to federal officials for review. They said they expect a ruling "soon."
Other Programs Challenged
Federal officials have challenged similar programs in other cities, including a proposal in Burbank to give $10,000 to the Salvation Army to be used for vouchers for temporary housing for the homeless. Funds for the Salvation Army also have been questioned in Anaheim, where money was allocated for the Christian organization's anti-gang program.
Although cities and counties determine how they want to distribute their share of block grant funds, allocated annually on July 1, the money is not actually issued until HUD approves the projects. If proposed projects do not meet stringent federal regulations, local governments may lose a part of their funds, federal officials said.
Madalyn Blake, community development administrator for Glendale, said the city, like most across the nation, typically allocates grant money for social services provided by church groups.
"Churches traditionally have provided such services because they have the greatest community awareness," Blake said. Despite the new federal warning, Blake said she is confident that the Catholic youth group and the YWCA will still qualify for the federal money. She said social services provided by such groups are independent of religious programs.
"It really is pretty clear-cut," she said.
Officials in several cities said the federal warnings are part of an apparent nationwide crackdown on the use of federal block grant funds, which have steadily dwindled under the Reagan Administration. Some Administration officials propose eliminating the funds altogether to help reduce the national debt.
The crackdown stems from a 1984 determination by a federal government attorney prohibiting funding for a Missouri drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility operated by the Salvation Army. The government official said the halfway house was not eligible because the program encouraged patients to seek spiritual counseling as part of their rehabilitation and because the program was operated directly by a religious organization. Robert S. Kenison, an associate general counsel, upheld the opinion in a statement issued last August.
Since then, federal officials deny that policies have changed but acknowledge that "new concepts," as one official put it, have evolved in the last year because of a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning church-state relationships.
Benjamin F. Bobo, manager of the Los Angeles regional HUD office, said funds may be allotted only to a secular, nonprofit corporation and may not be used to accrue assets for a religious group.
In Glendale, the proposed new youth center would belong to the CYO. But Catholic social service officials said the organization is independent of the church and its assets do not belong to the archdiocese.
About $800,000 in grant money was allocated to the Glendale Young Men's Christian Assn. during the last two years to renovate its building, where housing is provided for low-income adults, said Don Galleher, YMCA director of development.
Federal officials also have routinely approved funds for the Catholic Youth Organization, city officials said.
Limits on Use
Federal regulations limit Glendale to spending only about $219,000 of its $1.4 million in federal grant allocations this year on social service programs for low-income residents. The rest of the grant money is to be used for street repairs, neighborhood beautification and other public works projects in deteriorated areas and for low-cost loans to homeowners for repairs to substandard homes, Blake said.
Carlos Reyes, director of the Glendale CYO, said his organization has operated the largest program for disadvantaged children in the city for 40 years. The group has already started a campaign to raise the added $60,000 it needs to build the first phase of the new center.
Reyes said he is continuing the fund-raising campaign even though the federal money is in jeopardy. He said the number of children participating in the youth program has grown from 98 five years ago to 270 this summer. Annual dues charged for participation were increased July 1 from $13 to $20. However, Reyes said, youngsters whose families cannot afford the dues are still admitted.
He said a federal HUD official, who noted crowding when he inspected the center four years ago, suggested then that the youth group apply for the federal grant money to build a new facility.