From the Worldwide Faith News archives

NCCCUSA Kicks Off Welfare Reform Strategy

Date 09 Oct 1998 17:33:15

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Contact: Wendy S. McDowell, NCC, 212-870-2227


Multidisciplinary Group Stresses Need to End Poverty

 NEW YORK, Oct. 9 ---- As politicians across the country boast 
about declining welfare rolls, a diverse group including church 
leaders and communicators, policy analysts and community organizers 
has kicked off a strategy leading up to the 2002 welfare legislation 
reauthorization that stresses the need to end poverty.

"Shaping the Values that Shape Us," a mid-September consultation 
called by the National Council of Churches (NCC), included 100 
participants who evaluated current welfare reform legislation and its 
impact on communities.  The group then strategized about the church's 
role in advocating for more just and compassionate welfare policies. 

 Following the conference, the NCC's Economic Justice and Domestic 
Hunger Program Ministry delineated a four-part strategy for its anti-
poverty, welfare legislation effort which includes a think tank, 
legislative strategies, church educational strategies and long-term 
mobilization.  "These strategies are aimed at helping people in our 
churches get a deeper, more accurate picture of social welfare policy 
issues and empowering people to participate in the political process 
around these issues," reported the Rev. Charles Rawlings, Director of 
Urban Initiatives for the NCC.

 The group also identified seven goals for the 2002 legislation, 
including availability of work for everyone, investment in education 
and training programs, de-linking nutrition from welfare and 
addressing the crisis of care-giving.

"We realized that we needed to come together now to start the 
process so we will be ready when the issue is on top of the national 
agenda again in 2002," said the Rev. Janet Parker, one of the 
organizers of the welfare consultation, jointly sponsored by the NCC's 
National Ministries Unit and Communication Commission.  "In the 
meantime, we will work on what we can do on the state and other 
Welfare Issues Linked to Economic Inequalities

 The consultation emphasized the need to see social welfare policy 
issues as systemic economic problems rather than as individual moral 
questions.  "There was a strong sense that congressional leaders who 
passed the 1996 act believed they were curing moral deficiencies, 
using tough love to discipline people to work," said Mr. Rawlings.  
"But the presenters revealed that people lacked income because they 
lacked access to good jobs.  The average wage reported for people 
recently off welfare was $7-$8 an hour with no benefits."

 The speakers, who ranged from policy analysts and academics to 
church activists and church communicators, provided analysis that 
underscored the ever widening economic gap between the top 10 percent 
and the rest of the population.  These inequalities were illustrated 
by Steve Wilson of United for a Fair Economy, who mobilized conference 
participants to show, in concrete, visual ways, the growing gaps in 
private wealth and purchasing power.

"When we look at the workforce as a whole we find that most 
people are dealing with increasing economic vulnerability," said Mary 
Hobgood, Professor at the College of the Holy Cross.  "Over a quarter 
of U.S. workers today hold jobs that don't pay them enough to live 
above the poverty level.  Currently, at least 18 million people in the 
United States, half of whom are white, are forced to subsist on the 
underground economy, on crime, or on rapidly eroding state welfare 

Presentations also revealed the dissonance between deeply held 
American values of equal opportunity and fairness and punitive 
policies and programs enacted in recent years.  Michael Delli Carpini 
of Barnard College described primary and secondary values of the 
majority in the United States, who agree with the two-year limit on 
welfare but also agree that it is hard to find jobs.  "There is 
enormous conflict and contradiction (in these values)," Mr. Carpini 

 Speakers stressed the important role of the media as the agenda-
setter and image-maker.  LynNell Hancock from the Columbia School of 
Journalism, who has analyzed the media coverage of this issue 
carefully, reported that in the August 1, 1996, coverage of welfare 
legislation she found what she calls "media's allergy to poverty."  
For example, although 25 major newspapers had lead and sidebar stories 
about the legislation on that day, "there were only two quotes from 
welfare recipients."  Stereotypical images of the "welfare queen" were 
used in the stories as were simplistic slogans, she said.

 Many participants pointed to the media images and representations 
that shape the debate and showed how black and Latino populations bear 
the impact of welfare legislation disproportionately.  "A recent New 
York Times article on the drop in the nation's welfare rolls shows 
that African Americans and Hispanics across the country are being left 
behind in the move from welfare to work," said David Jones, President 
of the Community Service Society of New York.  "In New York City, 57 
percent of whites have left the welfare rolls since March 1995, but 
only 30 percent of African Americans and a mere 7 percent of 
Hispanics.  There was a time when welfare was stereotyped as a handout 
for urban minorities.  Now it is actually in danger of becoming so."

 Denominational communicators expressed the formidable challenges 
faced by the faith community in lobbying on this issue.  "Religious 
and moral arguments will probably not change the dominant values," 
said Hans Holznagel, Minister for Mission Education and Public 
Relations for the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries.  "We 
are up against funding, unanimity, one political party and part of 

 "We need a strategy of newsroom advocacy," said the Rev. Arthur 
Cribbs Jr., Executive Director for the United Church of Christ Office 
of Communication.  "We need to lobby on the inside."


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