WASHINGTON — President Bush said Saturday that religious charities, partly financed with federal money, have helped reduce homelessness, found jobs for former inmates and helped combat malaria and HIV/AIDS overseas.

Bush used his weekly radio address to trumpet the "remarkable difference these groups have made over the past eight years."

The president said he wants to level the playing field so religious charities and secular charities compete for government money on an equal footing. His White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives survived a legal challenge from a group of atheists and agnostics last year when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that ordinary taxpayers cannot sue to stop conferences that help religious charities apply for federal grants.

The faith-based program is particularly popular with Christian conservatives, whose support is seen as crucial for the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, an ally of Bush's. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama also is reaching out to evangelicals.

Praising the work of faith-based groups, Bush said: "Through their partnerships with the government, these organizations have helped reduce the number of chronically homeless by nearly 12 percent — getting more than 20,000 Americans off the streets. They have helped match nearly 90,000 children of prisoners with adult mentors. And they have helped provide services such as job placement for thousands of former inmates.

"Faith-based and community groups have also had a powerful impact overseas. In Africa, they have participated in our Malaria Initiative. In just over two years, this effort has reached more than 25 million people — and according to new data, malaria rates are dropping dramatically in many parts of that continent."