Magazine article The Christian Century

Measuring Welfare Reform

Magazine article The Christian Century

Measuring Welfare Reform

Article excerpt

Some State welfare rolls may be shrinking, but the debate over welfare reform is just beginning, and the success of reform will be measured by the numbers in future soup lines and shelters, according to the leaders of some of the nation's largest religious and charitable organizations. President Clinton has claimed recently that reductions in public assistance rolls are proof that his administration's efforts to overhaul welfare have worked. But many charitable organizations say they are finding themselves wrestling with how best to support the nation's fraying social safety net.

"If the debate over welfare reform is over, a national discussion of human need is just beginning," Gordon Raley, executive director of the National Assembly of National Voluntary and Social Welfare Organizations, told a news conference September 25. Raley predicts that the growing number of families in line at soup kitchens and the number of children who call local shelters home will be the real barometer of welfare reform, not the reduced welfare rolls. "Human services and churches will be the ones [that] will accurately measure the impact of welfare reform for the public," Raley added.

Top executives of the National Assembly--an umbrella group of 50 religious and charitable groups providing social services--said they are gearing up to cope with the growing social and human needs of those who tumble through the "safety net" once welfare ends. The faces of the needy "are what motivate us to be in our offices, in the soup kitchens.... This commitment does not change with the shifting of political winds," said Christine Vladimiroff, head of Second Harvest, a Chicago-based national network of food banks.

But the nonprofit leaders argued that while government expects churches and other charities to meet the needs of those being weened from the welfare rolls, those agencies can't do the job alone. The National Assembly called for a new partnership between government, the nonprofit human service sector, and American families to meet the needs of the poor because many will no longer be eligible for government benefits and have yet to find employment.

Specific proposals called for by the groups include:

* Setting up programs to ensure that all families with at least one parent working full-time can live above the poverty line. …

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