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February 15, 2001

NCC News Release About the Survey

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:

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

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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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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