From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Text of NCC Welfare Reform Survey

Date 15 Feb 2001 13:48:54

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


METHODOLOGY.	In the late summer of 2000, the Economic Justice and Domestic
Hunger Program Ministry of the National Council of Churches (NCC) mailed a
survey form to state and local ecumenical and interfaith organizations
throughout the U.S., with the request that it be filled out and returned to
the Council's Washington Office.  The form was also distributed to program
ministries of the NCC that work in areas related to the three national
programs being covered by the survey, with the request that their members
seek additional responses.  The survey was next sent to heads of NCC member
communions, who were asked to route it to the correct people in their
organization for response.  Finally, the Director of the Interfaith
Community Ministries Network included the survey in her newsletter for input
from local groups.

The survey is not meant to be an exhaustive or scientific sampling of
opinion.  In fact, it probably has a built-in bias, since the people who
responded most likely did so because they had a strong opinion and felt it
was worth taking the time and effort to respond in order that their opinion
could be counted.  There are many other scientific, objective and scholarly
studies being done on this subject that will help to inform the religious
community's views on the 2002 reauthorizations.  The purpose of this survey
was to hear from the NCC's community, to get their opinions, and to have
their input into shaping the Council's program for 2001-2002.

PURPOSE.The TANF, Food Stamp, and Child Care and Development programs all
expire in 2002 and need to be reauthorized by the U.S. Congress.  The
purpose of the survey was to learn from the constituency of the NCC and
religious groups with which the Council works closely at the state and local
levels how they evaluate these three programs as tools for combating poverty
in the U.S.  Specifically, the intent was to learn what that part of the
religious community thinks has worked well about the 1996 TANF legislation
and what it thinks has been harmful.  Respondents were asked to evaluate
TANF in their states and suggest changes that should be made in TANF, the
Food Stamp Program, and the Child Care program in 2002.  They were also
asked to provide information on what social services their organizations
offer, whether or not they have seen an increase in need, and, if they have,
what groups are most affected.  Finally, they were asked to identify
specific policy goals for inclusion in a religious community platform with
regard to TANF and related programs, and to suggest strategies for making
the platform a reality.

RESPONSES.Responses came from 34 states.  The majority were from community
ministries and local religious groups that provide social services.  In most
cases it is not possible to identify the religious affiliation of the
respondent because the organization is ecumenical or interfaith.  Some
religiously identifiable responses came from people representing Episcopal
Jubilee ministries or from Presbyterian Hunger Action Enablers or Lutheran
Social Services, but most were ecumenical.


Overall Evaluation of TANF:  The overall evaluations of how well TANF has
worked were more negative than affirmative, with 43% saying the program had
worked "fairly well", while 5% saw no change, 43% said "not very well", and
9% said "very badly."

Positive Features of TANF:  The highest marks went to a variety of work and
job readiness and retention activities conducted in some states, such as
Welfare-to-Work programs that include:

 significant literacy and job training;
 counting participation in post-secondary education as meeting the work
 enabling low-income workers to keep more of their earnings through a state
Earned Income Credit; and
 continuing supportive services such as Medicaid, food stamps, and
subsidies for housing, child care, and transportation for working people and
those leaving TANF.

Most respondents identified the presence and continuing availability of
supportive services as crucial.  There was significant emphasis on the
importance of:

 child care and after-school programs for children of working parents and
those seeking jobs;
 delinking of Medicaid and TANF so all low-income workers can have Medicaid
without having to be on TANF;
 enforcement of child support and enactment of the domestic violence
 expansion of child health care to working poor families; and
 efforts to simplify application processes and make multiple supportive
services available.

Many commended the efforts of their state and local jurisdictions to be

A few people felt that getting people off the welfare rolls was a good thing
and two supported time limits, but 6% of respondents said there was nothing
positive that should be preserved.

Negative Features of TANF:  The findings with regard to negative features
were not at all ambiguous.  Nearly everyone commented that the time limits
are too short (at two years for a single incident of participation and a
lifetime limit of five years for adults) and the sanctions too severe,
especially in those cases where a whole family loses benefits because a
parent fails to comply.  Some people advocated eliminating time limits
entirely; many want then lengthened.

There was strong agreement 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.  The
feeling was that people in need (whether or not they have children) should
be eligible for help for as long as it is needed, as long as they are making
an effort to comply.

Several people from different states expressed concern that people are being
forced to leave college and technical schools to take low-pay jobs, which
reduces their earning potential and keeps them dependent on low-pay jobs.

Most respondents condemned the action of Congress eliminating legal
immigrants and childless people from eligibility for assistance and noted
rising need among these groups, which showed up in responses to later
questions about increased need for social services in communities.

A majority of respondents said that adults on TANF are being forced to take
any job that is available without regard to their family needs.  Often they
are pushed into jobs for which they are not qualified and then sanctioned
for failing at work.  The jobs they get when they lack education and
training often don't pay enough to support a family 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 may be that they are
poorer when they are working than they were on welfare, a fact that also
shows up in responses to later questions.

There were many expressions of concern for people with multiple barriers to
employment.  For example, it is likely to take more than the two years
permitted a person on TANF to help someone become employable who suffers
from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or domestic violence.  It
may even take more than the five years permitted in a lifetime.  Most states
have no provisions for helping such people once they reach the time limit.

Many states do little or nothing to help parents of severely handicapped
children, requiring them to meet the same demands as anyone else or face
being sanctioned.

There was substantial criticism of the welfare bureaucracy.  Many people
said that:

 the system is too bureaucratic and requires too much paperwork;
 the recertification required by various programs is done too often and
requires people to take time off from work or school, which may make them
vulnerable to dismissal;
 some caseworkers are poorly trained, ill-informed, overworked, and
insensitive to client needs;
 clients are discouraged from applying and are not told about programs for
which they are eligible;
 clients are sometimes dropped from Medicaid, Food Stamps and child care
when they get a job even though they are still eligible; and
 some states have failed to apply for all of the TANF funds for which they
are eligible.

STATE USE OF T.A.N.F. FUNDS.Half of the respondents did not know whether
their state had spent all of its TANF funds for TANF purposes.  Most of the
remainder felt the funds had been correctly used, but those who did not
identified a wide range of alternative uses made of the funds.  Some were
TANF-supportive, such as funding a state Earned Income Credit, child care,
transportation, and housing assistance; but others such as subsidizing other
state-funded programs and building a golf course clearly were outside the
intent of the law.

STATE INTENT UNDER T.A.N.F.Most respondents felt that the state's intent had
been simply to make people leave welfare.  Some had no opinion, and 27% felt
their state was most interested in helping people gain employment that would
help them leave welfare.

PUBLIC POLICY WORK BY RESPONENTS.	Seventy percent of respondents said that
they do public policy advocacy; 30% do not.  Of those who do, nearly 70%
work at the state and local levels only, while the remainder also work at
the national level.  Of those who do public policy work, 75% said that
reauthorization of TANF, Food Stamps and Child Care will be a priority for
them in 2001-2002.  The remainder were not sure or said these issues would
not be priorities.

SOCIAL SERVICES PROVIDED BY RESPONDENTS.  	72% of respondents said that
their organization provides direct services to people in need.  Among those,
the primary services offered and the percentages in which they occur are:
Food 58%
Counseling 40%
Shelter 27%
Rent/mortgage/utility assistance 31%
Emergency health care 20%
Housing 15%

 Other services offered by respondents include:  domestic violence aid; GED
classes, job training and placement, emergency fuel, baby supplies,
after-school programs, child care, clothing, medicine, furniture, day
shelter for people with HIV-AIDS, hospice, pastoral support for women
recovering from addiction, school for immigrants, transportation, college
scholarship fund, home repair, aid to farmers, and mentoring.

INCREASED NEED.  Of those providing direct services, 94% said they had seen
an increase in need since TANF was enacted.  The greatest needs and the
frequency with which they were mentioned were:
Food 77%
Rent/mortgage/utility assistance 67%
Child care	 61%
Job training/placement 56%

Transportation 54%
Emergency shelter 52%
Pastoral/crisis counseling 50%
Emergency health care 37%
Other services mentioned in lesser numbers were alcohol and drug
rehabilitation, prescription medicine, mental health aid, legal aid,
tutoring, language translation, and senior and elder care.

GROUPS IN INCREASED NEED.  Those observing increased need, identified the
following groups as evidencing the need for more help in recent years, in
the percentages shown:
Working adults 63%
Families (not homeless) 51%
Homeless families 49%
Elderly 46%
Homeless adults 43%
Adults (not homeless) 42%
Immigrants 37%
Victims of violence 28%
People with handicaps 21%
Children alone 21%
Others 12%
The "other" category included people with various mental challenges, women
leaving prison, and homebound people with HIV/AIDS.

Many religious agencies do not attempt to categorize the people who seek
their aid, so there is probably overlap between some of these categories and
some of the responses may be based more on intuition or observation than
fact.  Nonetheless, the increase in need among what appears to be a largely
adult and employed population is indisputable.

CONCLUSION.  Although this is a limited survey that does not cover the
entire religious community, it covers a wide enough diversity of opinion for
the compiler to feel confident that the observations indicate some fairly
clear trends among the population that has come to the attention of this
segment of the religious social service community.  Those trends are that
more people are working as a result of TANF and a strong U.S. economy than
would have been had there not been any 1996 welfare law, but that many of
them have not escaped poverty by leaving welfare, and that their care is
being shifted away from government agencies to the non-profit sector, which
has a limited capacity to meet the need.

This paper does not include the recommendations for legislative action made
by respondents or their recommendations for a strategic plan because those
items will be under discussion for refinement at a religious community
consultation on the reauthorization of TANF and related programs on February
14-16, 2001.

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