|FAITH BASED WELFARE|
November 11, 1999
PERSON SINGING: I sing because I'm free..
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Cookman United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia sounds like any church in America.
PERSON SINGING...And I know he watches me
ANOTHER PERSON SINGING: And I sing...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Songs of prayer rise up from a basement community room.
PERSON SINGING: ...Because I'm happy...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But this is not the Cookman choir.
PERSON SINGING: ...His eyes...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In fact, these women are not even members of Cookman's congregation.
SPOKESPERSON: Let's go to Matthew Chapter five, Verse four.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They are welfare mothers, and the reason they're at Cookman United Methodist Church is to try and get off welfare. Reverend Donna Lawrence Jones is Cookman's pastor.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES, Cookman United Methodist Church: We bring hope. We bring a power higher than ourselves to tackle really complex issues. And what we've found is that many of those men and women that are on assistance have very complex issues.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES: How you doing?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Working with the poor is not new to churches, and helping the less fortunate is not new to Reverend Jones. She spends much of her time ministering in low-income neighborhoods surrounding the church.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES: Hi. How you doing?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Yet Reverend Jones' welfare- to- work program at Cookman is a novelty. That's because it's one of only a handful of faith-based programs across the country paid for with taxpayer dollars. Last year, the state of Pennsylvania awarded Jones' church a $150,000 three-year grant to help people get off welfare. (Choir singing) As part of a little-known provision in the 1996 welfare reform law, religious organizations can get federal money to start welfare-to-work programs without giving up their religious identity. In the past, churches that wanted government money had to set up separate secular organizations devoid of all religious symbols and teachings. The provision is called Charitable Choice, and it's a reform Jones' home state of Pennsylvania has embraced. Sherri Heller manages Pennsylvania's Offices of Public Assistance.
SHERRI Z. HELLER, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare: We learned that no matter what laws you pass, no matter what deadlines you set, what does it really take for a young single mother to get up at 6:00 in the morning and put a toddler in a snow suit and stand at the bus, and go to an entry-level job? And the answer is they have to be inspired by something, by someone. For some people, it's a vision of a better future; for some people, it's caring about their children's future; for some people, it's faith in God.
INSTRUCTOR: You will double-click on one of those icons to open...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At the Cookman welfare-to- work program, daily classes are offered in computers, math, literacy, life skills, and job placement. But the class that Reverend Jones believes is crucial is a faith development class.
REV. PAT WILLIS: Lord, we just bless you this morning. We just give you praise and glory and honor, God, for who you are. We just thank you for this privilege, Lord, to just be part of this program, Lord, and that you're molding and shaping us in the way that you will have us to be, lord.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It's here, Reverend Jones says, that students learn how to keep a job. Statistics show that most welfare mothers can get jobs, but the hard part is keeping them.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES: We feel in our hearts that that curriculum is probably more important than a math class or a computer class, because it's that curriculum that is going to sustain them when the kid is sick, the boss is calling, they have to work overtime, and they have to take the third shift.
REV. PAT WILLIS: The Holy Spirit has come to dwell with us, and He's the one that came to comfort you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Reverend Pat Willis uses the Bible to teach conflict resolution for the workplace.
REV. PAT WILLIS: We will experience a lot of difficulties in this life. Jesus said in this world, you shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer. He's letting us know there's going to be trials.
STUDENT: I don't know. But it says in the Bible something about forgiving your neighbor 70 times, 70 times a day. I don't know about that. I don't know, I'm a forgiving person, I am. I'm a really, really forgiving person. I just don't see how. I just don't know.
REV. PAT WILLIS: It's real. It's real. It's saying, "no, I will not allow this thing to hurt me." You know basically -- because basically, Jesus says you will be offended in this world. People are going to offend you, they're gonna hurt you, and they're gonna do you wrong. I mean it's real, but you can't allow that to affect you, so the only way you can do it is in Christ. And say "okay Jesus, you forgave me of my sins, now I'll forgive them in Your name." And yes, you can forgive. You can forgive.
REV. PAT WILLIS: Thank you, Jesus. Just watch how you think. Alleluia.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES: The sisters of faith curriculum that we use is trying to build that inner strength, so that when the stressors come, you know, people have some tools that they can use to manage the stress, whether it is prayer, or reading, or meditation, or just going in the living room and screaming out to God, "look I'm mad at You about this, and if You don't do something about it, I'm just going to shake my fist at You until you move," you know?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Giving government funds to faith-based organizations has been heralded by Presidential candidates in both parties. Vice President Al Gore made a speech in February endorsing faith-based services.
AL GORE: And Americans profoundly, rightly believe that politics and morality are deeply interrelated. They want to reconnect the American spirit to the body politic.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Then in August, Republican candidate George W. Bush chose the topic for s first campaign speech.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe in power of faith. I believe faith can transform lives. I believe it is important for us to fund services in faith-based institutions.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But having governments support faith-based charities is not without controversy. Barry Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
BARRY LYNN, Opponent: I think it's the nature of the church to be evangelical, and it's very difficult-- in fact, I think it's impossible-- to separate the function of trying to save souls from the function of trying to provide these social services in that same church setting. That's why I think these things are clearly unconstitutional. Two hundred-and-some years ago, the framers of our Constitution decided that we are not going to fund religious programs-- not the church itself, and not the church program that works in these important areas.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Both the charitable choice provision of the welfare law and the state of Pennsylvania require that any kind of worship or faith development be optional, and welfare recipients are always given the choice between faith-based welfare-to- work programs and similar non-religious ones.
SHERRI Z. HELLER: We're not promoting religion, we're not favoring a religious as opposed to a non-religious organization. But over the years, people have grown to expect government to be ineffective. Over the years, people measure how government is doing by what we spend money on, and not whether the money has accomplished anything. I think people are going to be real refreshed by the idea that we're buying what works, and when you are asking a young parent to find good child care for her child and go to work, build a new life for herself, what works is for her to have a network of support.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Mark Pelavin of the Religion Action Center for Reform Judaism argues that accepting government money is also bad for religion.
MARK PELAVIN, Opponent: Whenever the line between government and religion is allowed to evaporate, is allowed to be diminished, it's inevitably bad for religious institutions. The heavy hand of government presses down upon those institutions in a way that' unhealthy for them. They're... they're not subject... they're not free to fulfill their own mission, their own calling, as they see fit. They're instead - they're trying to answer to their calling; they're trying to answer to the government. That's a very different kind of responsibility.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That's an argument endorsed by many conservative churches as well. When the grants to churches first were proposed, conservative leaders supported them, while liberals complained that it was part and parcel of the religious right agenda. But on a local level, in fact, a University of Arizona study showed more liberal churches than conservative ones have indicated interest in applying for the funds. For those who do apply, critics fear the lure of government money could set church against church, faith against faith.
MARK PELAVIN: We have a depth and variety of religious life in America as nowhere else around the world. I think it would be tragic to turn at this hour and start pitting those religious groups against one another for an increasingly small slice of federal funds. I worry about competition-- Catholics against Protestants against Jews against Muslims-- in local communities across the country for a piece of the federal budget which is shrinking every year.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jones says that for years she too stayed clear of government money. But now that charitable choice allows her to offer prayer to clients, she's comfortable accepting funds.
STUDENT: For He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And even though only half her clients attend voluntary worship classes, Jones still feels she is making a difference. Most of her students are now working, and she is applying for an additional government grant of $200,000.
REV. DONNA LAWRENCE JONES: We want to make sure that as we send out this new work force, it's faith and that inner strength that comes through faith that allows us to continue to do a good job, and not to give up on ourselves, because God doesn't give up on us.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But for critics like Barry Lynn, the question remains, is that the church's job, or is it the government's?
BARRY LYNN: It really gets down to politicians saying, "you know, we don't really know how to fix most of these social problems," so we'll dump the poor, or people in gangs, or whatever category of people they can't figure out a way to deal with, on the church steps one day. Then we'll dump a bag of money there the next day, and we'll pray that the two get together. That's no way to run a government. That's no way that we ought to be dealing with these social problems.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Religious organizations may get a shot at even more money. An amendment to expand the charitable choice provision to drug rehabilitation programs currently is making its way through Congress.