|IS WORKFARE MORAL?|
Join the debate over whether workfare is modern slavery....
August 6, 1997
in this forum:
Would mandatory drug testing be more moral than workfare? Is workfare new or simply WPA and CCC projects repackaged? Weren't slaves treated better than welfare recipients are today? How can the religious community help change the public discourse on what is moral in this unfair and unjust economy? Your additional questions and comments
July 1, 1997:
How states are complying with new federal guidelines.
June 11, 1997:
The transition made by of hundreds of people who've moved from welfare to work as part of corporate programs to hire people on assistance.
April 14, 1997:
New California laws link food stamps to work.
Browse the NewsHour's index of Welfare stories.
Rev. Sirico's New York Times editorial defending workfare.
Labor unions critique the effects of workfare on employment opportunities.
Jackie Toner of Baltimore, MD, asks:
Churches and synagogues have traditionally eased the pain of the poor. In the U.S., we seem to have moved away from this premise. We use religion to organize self-absorbed communities, use tax-exempt dollars to build large beautiful temples, and rely on the Government to take care of society's problems.
What can religious institutions do to work with the States on the issue of helping the poor find work and self-sufficiency instead of whining that workfare is immoral?
Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute responds:
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, religious institutions were the primary providers of charity and help to those in society who need it. Contrary to legend, they were remarkably efficient at doing so. They cared for the body and the soul. They responded to needs in a personal way, taking account of individual and local differences in needs. But they were displaced after the Progressive Era, and especially during the Great Society, by huge centralized bureaucracies funded by the taxpayers.
I would like to see the trend reversed. But here's a problem. The welfare state itself (which is deeply entrenched in American life, despite recent reform) is a main impediment to the increased use of private charity in this country. Many religious institutions confront this reality every day. When they set up programs to help the poor, the people they would like to serve sometimes see advantages in shopping around for the best welfare provider. Why deal with religious organizations--which often make charity contigent on personal and moral improvement--when you can go to the county welfare office and receive unrestricted benefits?
We need to muster the courage that will be required to make dramatic cutbacks in government-provided welfare, at all levels of society. And we need to do this knowing that there can never be, and should not be, a dollar-for-dollar replacement of present government benefits with future private benefits. People of good need a chance to help others; paying taxes doesn't suffice. But so long as mammoth bureaucracies are involved, they will be denied the opportunity and resources to do the job right.
Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of the Stephen Wise Synagogue responds:
As a leader of one synagogue community I can say that we take our responsibility to the wider community very seriously. This congregation shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, provides meals and social services to AIDS patients, provides programming to mentally and emotionally disabled adults, runs a summer camp program for indigent inner-city kids, among other things. We need to fix our roof, and repair part of our facade. Many of the other churches and synagogues that I work with are doing similar programs. There are abuses in every sector, and those that raise money for their own aggrandizement should do a little soul searching.
However, we also have another responsibility -- to use the prophetic voice to cry out about society's injustices. The synagogue I serve was named after the great rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who was one of the forces behind the creation of labor unions in this country. He used this pulpit to address the moral questions of his time. Any responsible cleric should do the same. When the homeless crisis hit NY City in the 80's, the churches and synagogues responded and worked with (and against) the City to make it better.
Now, we all have a job to do. The first step is calling out when we see injustice done (as it is being done with NYC's version of Workfare). The next step is marshalling the forces of synagogues and churches to help create a better system and to get involved with job training and job placement. That is the challenge before us.