Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare

By Mary Jo Bane; Brent Coffin et al. | Go to book overview

mothers who have participated in the Head Start Program. Not unlike the success stories illustrating the moral that leaving welfare leads to a better life, White hears in the voices of low-income women scripted narratives of isolation and empowerment. Running through these narratives are deep echoes of African-American spirituality that have shaped the culture of Head Start programs. Recognizing such influences, White asks how public programs can empower participants by drawing on their spiritual narratives while not excluding others for whom such traditions are foreign.

The final essay by poverty scholar Mary Jo Bane draws the book to a close by returning the focus directly to religious communities and looking to the future. Recalling the lack of grassroots participation by religious congregations in the last round of welfare reform, Bane asks what impact the new policy environment will have on faith-based engagement in social provision. Looking specifically at Catholic parishes, Bane envisions greater involvement taking three forms: new services to the poor and greater personal involvement with poor families; strengthening disadvantaged neighborhoods through congregation-based community organizing; and developing knowledge and skills in local parishes to shape the moral debate over social provision. While acknowledging the perils and dilemmas explored in these essays, Bane argues that greater participation in all three forms can strengthen both religious communities and the larger civic community. The perils do not overshadow the promise.

Whether or not new partnerships emerge will depend in great measure on those who exercise leadership in religious communities, civic organizations, and public agencies. It is the hope of the seminar members that their discussions, presented in these essays, will be helpful to leaders also working to find better answers to the question, "Who will provide?"


Notes
1.
See R. Kent Weaver, Ending Welfare as we Know It ( Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 2000) for an insightful discussion of the politics around welfare reform in the early 1990s.
2.
For example, Charles Murray, Losing Ground:American Social Policy ( New York: Basic Books, 1984); David T. Ellwood, Poor Support:Poverty in the American Family ( New York: Basic Books, 1988).
3.
Information on waivers is available at the web page of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services: www.acf.dhhs.gov.
4.
Mary Jo Bane's HHS and Kennedy School colleague David Ellwood wrote an illuminating perspective on the politics of the administration's welfare reform effort in "Welfare Reform as I Knew It," The American Prospect ( May/June 1996): 22-29.
5.
Senator Moynihan in remarks on the Senate floor, August 2, 1996.
6.
Richard P. Nathan, and Thomas L. Gais, Implementing the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996: A First Look ( Albany: Nelson Rockefeller Institute of Government, 1999).

-16-

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