F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
July 16, 2000
Welfare for Faith-Based Charities?

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Charitable organizations helping people overcome dependence on government handouts should be wary of accepting that same assistance for themselves.

"For nearly four years, religious groups throughout the country have been receiving government funding to provide employment, training, child care, housing, food, and transportation services to welfare recipients," reports Lisa Oliphant of the American Public Human Services Association. "In 1996," she recalls, "drafters of the welfare reform legislation invited the faith community to unite with the public sector in the nation's battle against welfare dependency through the so-called 'charitable choice' provision."

In a recent issue of Policy Practice, the journal of the American Public Human Services Association, Oliphant acknowledges that "transition from long-term dependency to self-sufficiency often requires a spiritual transformation that a government caseworker cannot facilitate. Faith-based organizations are generally regarded as more effective deliverers of social services," she affirms, "because of their personalized, yet tough-love approach." Oliphant warns, however, that "charitable choice creates a spiritual poverty trap for religious charities by attracting them with government dollars and then forcing them, through a web of regulations and ambiguities, to forfeit time, resources, and, ultimately, mission. In encouraging faith-based organizations to compete for government social services contracts," she cautions, "charitable choice threatens to bring about the end of churches as we know them."

Oliphant argues that church-state partnerships "often come at great expense to religious organizations and the clients they serve. Government standards and excessive regulation intended to ensure accountability and quality care inevitably come attached to government grants and contracts," she emphasizes. "In the end, what these standards and regulations ensure is nothing more than tremendous waste and major headaches for faith-based charities."

Oliphant reports that "church-state social service partnerships have a dubious track record. Government funding always begets extensive government regulation," she asserts, "often at the expense of the organi- zation, mission, and effectiveness of the very charities it was intended to assist. Desperate to obtain and keep their public dollars, faith-based organizations are frequently forced to redirect their energies and resources toward developing political clout and proving their programs' compliance with the vast array of conditions attached to their funding. In response to these conditions and new funding concerns," Oliphant remarks, "many charities remove or lose sight of the key spiritual ingredients that made their programs so effective in the first place."

Oliphant concludes that "government social services contracts tend, in practice, to mold religious charities into bureaucratic welfare offices." She contends that "religious nonprofits come to be viewed by clients and private donors as little more than government agencies." Oliphant speculates that "religious charities' private support base will erode in response to an influx of government dollars. Private donors," she suggests, "are likely to feel as though their contributions are no longer needed. . . ."

Oliphant says research indicates that "faith-based organizations that reject or do not seek government dollars continue to do exceedingly well in carrying out and maintaining support for their services programs." She concludes that "both the willpower and the resources exist to reinvigorate faith-based social services without the help of government dollars."

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