From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
NCCCUSA Kicks Off Welfare Reform Strategy
CAROL_FOUKE.email@example.com (CAROL FOUKE)
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
100NCC10/9/98 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NCC KICKS OFF LONG-TERM WELFARE REFORM STRATEGY
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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