Remarks of Amy Sherman
DR. SHERMAN: Good morning. My role on the panel today is to sketch
out the big picture of what's actually going on around the country
when it comes to collaboration between faith organizations and government.
Let me start by mentioning that even though one of the common
phrases we tend to use in our vocabulary about the faith community
is the phrase, "points of light" actually I like that
phrase, I think it's a nice phrase it can be kind of a misleading
phrase, because it gives out the suggestion that what's going on
is just a number of individual nice things that we should all look
at and be happy about, and it kind of neglects really the enormous
scope of the faith community's contribution to providing for social
welfare in our country.
Let me give you a sense of what that scope is with a few statistics:
Onethird of all daycare is provided or is housed in religious buildings;
a 1991 national survey of congregations found that 92 percent of
them operated at least one kind of human service or social welfare
And a recent study by a Professor Ram Cnaan at the University
of Pennsylvania estimated that, nationally, congregations contribute
about $36 billion annually to social services.
And that's just talking about the social services provided by
congregations. In addition to that, you have to add all the contributions
made by religious nonprofit organizations, 501(c)(3)'s. Those statistics
are not quite as current, but a 1985 study, by the Council on Foundations,
of the contributions made by faithbased non-profits to the social
safety net in the United States found that faithbased non-profits
spend somewhere between $7.5 and $8.5 billion annually for services
to individuals and communities in need.
So, yes, we have lots of individual points of light; we also have
something much bigger, much grander in scope.
Well, some of what is going on is happening in collaboration with
the government. There are four different kinds of ways that faith
organizations work collaboratively with state and local governments:
One way is to collaborate nonfinancially, but in a formal manner.
For example, in San Diego there is a group of churches that sponsors
a help desk that serves as an "oasis" in the middle of
the welfare office. As individuals come into apply for services
and they're dragging their screaming children in tow, and it's a
very frustrating system, they can hang out there at the church help
desk. They can also learn there about nongovernmental services available
to them, provided by the religious community.
In other cities like Montgomery, Alabama, they have a churchbased
adoptacaseworker program where churches literally work in conjunction
with specific caseworkers. And when that caseworker is working with
a family whose needs fall through the government cracks, she can
call upon the church and ask them to help her client.
In many states, approximately 28 altogether, there are a number
of churchbased welfaretowork mentoring programs that perhaps don't
receive any financial help from government, but have a formal referral
relationship. Individuals who are going through some kind of state
welfare reform program are told about these mentoring programs and
given the opportunity, if they would like to volunteer, to be involved
in that program.
There are churches that are providing help to individuals that
are getting their home daycare certifications from government; there
are churches collaborating with police enforcement to get kids out
of gangs, and just a wide variety of ways that churches are working
with government in a nonfinancial fashion.
Secondly, there is what might be called giftsinkind collaborations.
In some instances, this looks like the Department of Social Services
saying to a faithbased group or a number of churches, "We will
provide you with a desk here at social services, maybe a computer,
maybe a telephone, so that you have office space. As you are calling
around trying to mobilize people in the faith community to be involved
in helping relationships with individuals that our agency is serving,
you can have this free office space."
In other situations, it looks like churches or faith organizations
providing free space or services to government. For example, in
Texas, a community a local welfare agency was shut down because
they didn't have enough money to keep it running. A large church
said, well we don't want that office to shut down because then our
people would have to figure out how to get all the way across town
to meet with their caseworkers and go to the jobs bank and this
sort of thing.
The church is actually donating office space so that the government
can come and set up their shop and it can be closer to those in
Thirdly, you have what I call indirect financial collaboration.
And this looks like the government having some kind of formal contract
with a usually large and administratively sophisticated either nonprofit
organization, like Goodwill Industries, or perhaps a forprofit company
that has received a contract to provide welfare services, for example,
And then the institution that has received a direct government
contract, turns around and writes subcontracts with faithbased organizations
and religious congregations to provide specified services. In this
arrangement, eventually government money is reaching religious organizations
to underwrite certain social services, but that money is channeled
through an intermediary organization and thus keeps the faithbased
group at a little further distance from government.
And then fourth, there is direct financial collaboration, which
is the kind that is most relevant to the specific regulations of
I worked with Stanley Carlson-Thies on a report called the Growing
Impact of Charitable Choice. This is a catalog of examples of post1996
new collaborations between the faith community and the government
in nine particular states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In studying those nine states, I uncovered 84 examples of direct
financial contracting under Charitable Choice between state and
local governments and specific faithbased non-profits or congregations.
The vast majority of those contracts were, in fact, between government
and faithbased 501(c)(3)'s. There were just a few instances of a
direct financial relationship between and individual congregation
and a county government or some other regional government.
The kinds of direct contracts that are being written primarily
are for social services that require a great deal of intensive,
facetoface involvement with the individual or family in need.
That really makes sense, because this is the niche that the faith
community is perhaps best suited to fill. The faith community is
able to mobilize a large number of individuals who can give a lot
of personalized, intensive, oneonone, longterm emotional support
and friendly help to individuals in need.
They can provide to people in need, the kind of personalized attention
that a government caseworker, that is trying to juggle 70 or 80
different clients at a time, simply is not able to provide.
So, it's not surprising that most contracts are being written
for faith groups to do things like welfaretowork mentoring or like
job readiness training or faithbased drug rehab programs.
As Stanley mentioned, some of these states were more or less open
to collaboration. Texas, Wisconsin, and Michigan were definitely
the most open, and New York and Massachusetts rather un-open.
The contracts themselves were diverse in their range, everything
from as small as a thousanddollar contract, all the way up to a
half a milliondollar contract.
One of the interesting findings from the study was that conservative
or evangelical organizations were "in the game," so to
speak. A lot of people think that these are the organizations that
will not likely to pursue any kind of financial relationship with
government, but 20 out of my 84 examples of direct financial partnerships
were with organizations that would call themselves evangelical.
Another key finding from the study was that Charitable Choice
really does seem to be increasing the number of new players providing
social services, in that over half of the partnerships that I identified
were between religious organizations that had had no prior history
of being involved with government.
Many of the contracts were with groups like The Salvation Army,
or Lutheran Social Services, or Catholic Charities, which have a
long tradition of financial relationships with government, but literally
over half of the examples that I uncovered were between organizations
that didn't have that kind of traditional relationship.
And so the network of service providers is truly being broadened
under Charitable Choice.
Let me sum up by mentioning just a few lessons learned from what's
going on today:
Agreeing with Stanley's presentation, the first lesson learned
is that there is still an enormous amount of ignorance about Charitable
Choice, both in the government sector and in the faith community.
People don't know what it is, or they vaguely know that Charitable
Choice is about a new, better environment for friendly collaboration
between faith and government. When it comes down to the specifics
of what that is about and the particular guidelines of Charitable
Choice, they are not able to articulate those.
A second lesson learned, again, highlighting what Stanley said,
is that there are still many government policies and procedures
in place that are hindering good collaboration. There is still noncompliance
on the part of government with Charitable Choice.
A third lesson is that those indirect partnerships I mentioned
earlier appear to be the ones that perhaps are the best way to go
down the road. In interviews with individuals, both in government
and in the faith side, those who were involved in those kinds of
indirect relationships felt more comfortable. There was something
about being one more step removed from government that gave a certain
sense of safety, I guess you could say, to the religious provider.
And then finally, the news on the ground, despite the legitimate
concerns of those who have fearfulness about Charitable Choice,
the news on the ground in terms of what's really going on, is: So
far, so good.
The 84 programs I looked at were affecting somewhere in the neighborhood
of 3,000 clients, 3,000 needy people who were receiving services
from faithbased organizations.
And through all of my hundreds of interviews, I only came up with
two examples of clients that had complaints about the way they were
treated in faithbased situations.
Both of these were with the same organization, and the complaint
was that the program that they were involved with was linked to
a specific church, and they felt that in this program the staff
were pushing them to go to that particular church. And these clients
didn't want to do that.
They raised this concern with their caseworker, and according
to the guidelines of Charitable Choice, they simply were permitted
to leave that program and to join a different program that was operating
there in the city.
So I did not find lots and lots of people on the religious side
saying, 'gosh, we took this government money and we feel completely
squelched, we're not able to really be true to who we are'. And
I did not find lots of clients saying, 'gosh, I went into this faithbased
program and they really shoved religion down my throat'.
Now, I'm not saying that that's never going to happen in the future;
I'm simply saying that in terms of what's actually going on, the
news is: So far, so good.