Charitable Choice Conference

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 program.

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 their neighborhood.

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, Lockheed Martin.

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 Charitable Choice.

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.


2003 The Federalist Society