From the Worldwide Faith News archives

NCC Welfare Reform Survey Finds More Working Poor, Hungry

Date 15 Feb 2001 13:35:58

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Contact: NCC News, 212-870-2227
E-mail:; Web:

Faith-Based Service Providers, Advocates Discuss Strengths/Weaknesses as
Reauthorization Nears

February 15, 2001, CHEVY CHASE, Md. - More Americans are working as a result
of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, but many of them are poorer than
before, according to faith-based social service providers and advocates
polled by the National Council of Churches.

These providers report that they are seeing more and more hungry people,
according to the survey, released today.  Overwhelmingly, respondents said,
working families are the fastest growing category of people in need, and
more and more of them are coming to faith-based organizations and other
not-for-profits seeking food and help with rent, mortgage and utility
payments, child care and job training and placement.

"Florida voters may have left a lot of dimpled chads, leaving ballot
counters puzzled at their intent, but survey respondents were clearly
outraged at the increase in numbers of working poor," said Mary Cooper of
the NCC's Washington Office, who tallied the results.

"They jabbed at the survey form and put multiple checkmarks as they
described working people struggling to stay housed but unable to pay their
utilities and turning to the church for help.  This winter it's going to be
terrible for people trying to pay for heat."

"Just getting a job is not sufficient to get out of poverty," Ms. Cooper
said.  "We have to help policy makers understand that."

The NCC canvassed social service providers and advocates from its 36
mainline Protestant and Orthodox member denominations and from state and
local ecumenical and interfaith programs. Responses came from 34 states;
most respondents were from community ministries and local religious groups
that provide social services.

Survey results were released during a related, NCC-sponsored consultation
being held here Feb. 14-16 and drawing more than 120 participants from
congregations, local, state and national ecumenical and interfaith
organizations and grassroots organizations in 29 states and the District of

They will recommend a "platform" for the advocacy work of the National
Council of Churches, its member denominations and their 50 million
adherents, in collaboration with state and local religious and secular
partners, as three welfare reform-related programs come up for
reauthorization in 2002: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the
Food Stamp Program and the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

	The NCC opposed enactment of TANF at the beginning, but "now it's the only
welfare program we have," Ms. Cooper said.  "So we have to deal with it
realistically.  We have to be in favor of reauthorization, acknowledge
what's working and speak up about what needs to be changed."

The survey and consultation - made possible by funding from the Annie E.
Casey Foundation --  are pieces of the NCC's broader, 10-year "Poverty
Mobilization," launched in November 2000 and exploring initiatives in such
areas as health care, children, environment, education and housing, all with
the aim of identifying achievable goals for combating poverty in the United

What's working under the 1996 welfare reform, Ms. Cooper reported, "came
down to what helps people get jobs, earn a decent wage and have a decent
life.  What's bad is what makes people worse off by going to work than they
were on welfare."

Under the 1996 legislation, people leaving welfare often are forced to take
any job that is available without regard to their family needs, the survey
confirmed.  "Jobs people take when they lack education and training often
don't pay enough to support a family," respondents said, "and in many states
they lose Medicaid, Food Stamps, child care and housing subsidies when they
get a job, or the value is sharply reduced.  The result is they are poorer
working than they were when they were on welfare."

"There was wide diversity among respondents as to whether welfare reform is
working or not, but no question at all that need is much increased," Ms.
Cooper said. "Respondents were nearly unanimous that the time limits for
getting off welfare are too short and the sanctions too harsh - for example,
where a whole family loses benefits because a parent fails to comply."

Welfare reform has worked best, the survey found, where states provide
significant literacy and job training and continue supportive services such
as Medicaid, Food Stamps, subsidies for housing and child care and
transportation for working persons and those leaving welfare.

"People leaving welfare need supportive experiences to be phased out very
carefully and gradually so they are better off at the end of it," Ms. Cooper

Survey respondents agreed that many states have unrealistic expectations of
people's ability to work.  "Many of those who are still on TANF need
substantial education, training and medical care in order to be employable,
and it may well take more than two years for them to reach this goal,"
respondents said.  "They said people in need (whether or not they have
children) should be eligible for help as long as it is needed, as long as
they are making an effort to comply.  And some people will never be

The survey found a lot of states aren't giving people the Food Stamps and
Medicaid to which they are entitled, even after they go to work.

As people are being pushed off welfare, the survey noted, their care is
being shifted away from government agencies to the non-profit sector, which
has a limited capacity to meet the need.  "Faith-based organizations are
being called to take on more than they are able to offer," Ms. Cooper
observed.  "Churches offer food, clothing and counseling, but few have the
capacity to help with rent, mortgage and utilities payments, transportation
and job training."


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