Salvation Army Fills Congress In: Detailed Report Submitted Even Though It Wasn't Asked For

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The Salvation Army marched to Capitol Hill last week to show lawmakers what the nation's largest charity does, bringing with it a 135-year history of religious work that touches even on today's wel-fare-reform debate.

"We believe there is a value-added factor to the faith-based approach in serving people," Commissioner Robert A. Watson said at a first "Annual Report to Congress" luncheon Wednesday.

The head of the U.S. branch of the Salvation Army said that laws must keep social services accountable, but also give religious ministries a "level playing field" with secular services in bids for government funding.

He urged that "restrictions not be placed on government funding which would change the mission and philosophy of faith-based organizations."

Only 15 percent of the Salvation Army's annual operating budget of about $2 billion comes from the government. That portion can be 60 percent or more for other large agencies such as Care or Catholic Charities.

The Salvation Army, according to Forbes magazine, also is the nation's most efficient charity - 86 cents of every dollar goes to the needy.

With size and efficiency, it has become a significant voice in the welfare-to-work debate in the United States. So significant, in fact, that Vice President Al Gore spoke at a Salvation Army service center in Atlanta last week to set a tone for his pursuit of the presidency in 2000.

In its report to lawmakers - a ceremonial act urged on the charity by its 40-member board of ministers and CEOs - the organization said its 9,000 service centers and nearly 2 million officers, cadets, staff, members and volunteers ministered to 32 million people in 1998.

Founded as an evangelistic organization to reach the downtrodden in industrial England, the charity still sees religious conversions as a central mission.

Yet it does not make religious acceptance a requirement to receive help. Of the 32 million people it had contact with, for example, only from 100,000 to 200,000 might make a "decision for Christ."

In 1996, the welfare-reform legislation included a "charitable choice" clause that said faith-based welfare services could use government funds without having to dilute their spiritual work. …