From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Survey finds more people working but still mired in poverty

Date 16 Feb 2001 13:52:16

Feb. 16, 2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York

NEW YORK (UMNS) -- Welfare reform, coupled with the strong economy of recent
years, has led more people to jobs but has not necessarily lifted them out
of poverty.

That's the conclusion of a survey conducted by the National Council of
Churches (NCC) and released Feb. 15. Responses came from 34 states, mostly
from community ministries and local religious groups that provide social

The purpose was to assess how well the Temporary Assistance to Needy
Families (TANF) program enacted in 1996, the Food Stamp Program, and the
Child Care and Development Block Grant have worked as tools to combat
poverty in the United States. The programs expire in 2002 and must be
reauthorized by Congress.

Many church-related groups have worked during the past five years to assist
those affected by welfare reform. The Women's Division of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries, for example, has made more than $1.5
million in grants to programs helping poor women and children impacted by
changes in the welfare system.

The NCC survey shows that, overall, respondents were more negative than
positive about TANF. On the positive side, there was approval over
commitments in some states to provide job readiness and retention activities
such as literacy and job training, earned-income tax credits and support
through child care, Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and

On the negative side, nearly all respondents felt the time limits and
sanctions for the program were too severe and condemned the congressional
action that eliminated legal immigrants and childless people from
eligibility for assistance.

"There was strong agreement that many states have unrealistic expectations
of people's ability to work," the survey said. "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

At Cookman United Methodist Church, located in a north Philadelphia
neighborhood where the poverty rate is high and the high school graduation
rate is low, changes in the welfare system were a concern.

To deal with that concern, the church received "charitable choice" funding
from the government for its Transitional Ministries program, which focuses
on education to prepare students for jobs and job advancement. Besides
classes addressing practical matters such as GED completion and employment
preparation, topics in the "life skills" class include self-esteem,
decision-making and time management. Classes in spiritual direction are
available to those who choose to participate.  

"We are the church," said the Rev. Donna Jones, Cookman's pastor. "We deal
with the human side of things, and people know we truly want to help. We
come at this program from a different place than the government programs,
and that elicits a different trust level from the participants."

Seventy-two percent of the survey respondents said their organizations
provide direct services, such as food, housing, counseling and emergency
health care, to people in need. The vast majority - 94 percent - found an
increase in the need for those services since TANF was enacted.

Recommendations for legislative action or a strategic plan were not a part
of the survey, but were discussed at a Feb. 14-16 religious community
consultation on the reauthorization of TANF and related programs.
# # #
*Kelly Martini, a staff member with the Women's Division of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries, contributed to this story.

United Methodist News Service
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