Adapted from Empowering Single Parents—Ministering Through Welfare-to-Work

At this time in America's history, God has provided an open door for the church to step up to its responsibility to help people in need. Today, the government is turning to the faith community for help in providing aid to the poor. This open door may not last long, but while it does the church has a unique opportunity to reach those who have never been reached before.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) ended the federal entitlement program, Aid For Dependent Families (AFDC), and enacted the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF). Federal funds are now allocated to states with the requirement that the funds be used to strengthen families and help them to become self-sufficient.

The new guidelines include an opportunity for faith-based organizations to apply, through each state, for specific program funds in competition with non-faith-based organizations.

Faith-based ministries have always helped the poor, but they have been hesitant to accept government funds in the past because accepting those funds meant forsaking their religious integrity. Section 104 of the PRWORA, otherwise known as the Charitable Choice provision, was designed to release ministries from many of the constraints of the past but allows funding for programs that are effective in helping welfare recipients successfully move into the workforce.

Charitable Choice Provision

This new opportunity for access to government funding allows nonprofit, charitable organizations to use what is called “best practices” programs for moving families from welfare dependence to independence. The “choice” part refers to the fact that beneficiaries of services have a greater opportunity to choose services from either secular social-service organizations or faith-based programs.

Charitable Choice does not provide or guarantee funding. It is a federal law that establishes how federal TANF, welfare-to-work, and other funds designated for the poor may be spent by states to purchase welfare services.

When it was written, the Charitable Choice provision consisted of four basic rules.

  • When a state opens bidding for contracts to nongovernmental agencies for specific services for welfare recipients, the state must give equal bidding opportunity to secular social service and faith-based organizations and must choose organizations that use the best practices for serving the poor.
  • Faith-based organizations may retain their religious integrity, including the hiring, firing, and disciplining of employees based on religious criteria.
  • Faith-based organizations may not discriminate against beneficiaries because of their beliefs.
  • If a beneficiary protests to accepting services from a faith-based organization, the state must be prepared to offer similar services through another provider.
Urgency of Need

One federal mandate of the Welfare Reform Act that will impact our nation is that all able-bodied adults were given a five-year lifetime limit on receiving TANF benefits. The first federal time deadline was August 2001, when many recipients faced the loss of benefits for the first time. Some states set earlier deadlines that passed before that date.

Many individual states that have moved ahead with their plans to transition adults into the workforce are finding that these people aren't making enough money to rise above the rank of the working poor. Now there is an urgent need for ministries to help families who are moving from welfare to work but still not earning the wages they need to provide for their families.

Although it has only four basic rules, Section 104 tends to raise a lot of questions. Access to additional funds may mean new ministries, but will the integrity of the ministry suffer? These questions must be answered on a case-by-case basis. For further explanation of Charitable Choice, visit the Center for Public Justice Web site at www.cpjustice.org.

Crown Financial Ministries has developed an instructional manual and video package, Empowering Single Parents—Ministering Through Welfare-to-Work, that is a practical guide for churches and organizations that want to develop an effective welfare-to-work ministry.