Baha'i News -- Faith-based coalitions, social services, and government funding

Faith-based coalitions, social services, and government funding

Both the charitable choice provision, Section 104 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, and President Bush's recent Faith-Based and Community Initiative were designed to encourage the increased participation of faith-based organizations as government supported social service providers. This article examines 14 faith-based coalitions in Harris County, Texas, and their response to accepting government movies for social services. Description of these coalitions indicates great variability among them in regard to structure, resources, programs offered and attitudes towards government contracts. This study demonstrates the importance of including faith-based coalitions, along with local congregations, in the effort to understand faith- based social services.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) addressed President Clinton's campaign promise to "change welfare as we know it." Welfare policy changes such as the elimination of entitlements to public assistance, work requirements for benefit recipients, limited immigrant eligibility, and state controlled social programs demonstrate the new emphasis on personal responsibility and local solutions. This retrenchment of the federal government has been accompanied by a renewed effort to promote religious charity as a "safety net" that will fulfill society's "responsibility to the disadvantaged" (Mitchell 2000). The "charitable choice" provision, Section 104 of PRWORA, was an attempt to bolster this safety net. This provision requires that states treat religious organizations as any other non-government provider when contracting for services funded under this legislation. Specifically, the charitable choice clause establishes a statute that protects the religious character of faith-based organizations that receive these funds, without diminishing the religious freedom of program beneficiaries.

President George W. Bush aggressively implemented the "spirit of charitable choice" in Texas while Governor of the state and made it a central component of his "compassionate conservatism" platform during the presidential campaign. On January 29, 2001, the second week into his new administration, Bush announced his Faith-Based and Community Initiative. The ensuing flurry of debate and criticism has not followed predictable political or religious lines. Some Republicans, as well as Democrats, and religious groups of both liberal and conservative persuasions have raised concerns. These debates highlight the contentiousness and complexities of the faith- based initiative. President Bush and proponents of the faith-based initiative have tended to focus on the supply side and emphasize the need to provide more funds to faith-based organizations whose religious character is considered the key to their effectiveness (Hoover 2000; Mitchell 2000). What has been largely overlooked in the political debate is the demand side of the issue, that is, the extent to which religious organizations are aware of and willing to accept government funds.

Recent studies have demonstrated that religious congregations are already an essential part of the social welfare net, providing services such as food and clothing pantries, limited financial aid, job referrals, tutoring, child care, language classes and self-help programs (Chaves 1999; Cnaan 1997; 1999; Printz 1998; Twombly and DeVita 1998; Wineburg 1991). Even though some religious congregations accepted limited government funding prior to 1996, the major support for their programs has come from financial contributions, as well as inkind donations and volunteer assistance from congregants. Few congregations utilize government funds even though fiscal constraint constitutes one factor limiting the expansion of much needed social service programs (Cnaan 1999; Printz 1998). In his survey of U.S. congregations, Chaves (1999) found that only 3 percent are receiving government funds for social service projects, even though 57 percent are engaged in social service delivery.

Most of what we know about religious social service provision is based on studies of congregations. In our study of immigrant congregations, we discovered that the majority of services in Houston, Texas are provided, not by individual congregations, but by faith-based coalitions that were begun in order to serve the needy during the economic downturn of the mid-1980s (Ebaugh and Pipes 2001). The coalition model for providing social services continued after the economy rebounded and remains a major way in which congregations in Houston funnel their social outreach programs. Even though congregations support their local coalition through a yearly contribution from their general operating fund, periodic "special collections" of monies, donations of clothing and food, and volunteers to assist in the programs, many congregants and even some associate ministers are only vaguely aware of the coalitions and their operations.

This paper examines the programs and operations of 14 faith- based coalitions that provide social services in Harris County, Texas. Faith-based coalitions are critical for understanding how faith-based providers are likely to utilize government monies available to them. Frequently, these coalitions control the resources and deliver the services supported by congregations. In addition, coalition building is likely to increase as governmental agencies and the nonprofit sector continue to emphasize collaborative solutions to the demands created by welfare reform (Sherman 2000; California Religious Community Capacity Study 2000).

The devolution of responsibility for welfare programs from the federal government to the states has significantly curtailed the ability to speak in terms of national social policies (Bell 1999). States are individually examining and changing their policies, programs and social service delivery systems in response to welfare reform and the charitable choice initiative. Given the emphasis on local solutions in this welfare reform era, it is imperative to examine collaborative efforts of social service providers in specific local areas, as well as national data on faith-based social service providers.

Several factors make Harris County, which includes Houston, an important research site for examining faith-based service providers in this new welfare reform era. As of 1999, immigrants represented 14 percent of Harris County's population, a group significantly impacted by welfare reform. Almost 28 percent of the county's 1999 population was Hispanic, a group with a national poverty rate of approximately 29 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey 1999; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract 1998). In addition, Texas was the first state to implement the charitable choice concept and it is the only state that received an "A+" for its compliance with the federal ruling in an evaluation conducted by the Center for Public Justice (2000).

Two research questions are addressed in this study:

1) Because of the scarcity of research that focuses on faith- based coalitions, it is important to examine the organizational structure of the fourteen coalitions. What is the scope of their operations and resources? Who are their clients and how has their client-base changed in the past five years? How are they funded and to what extent do they rely on government funding?

2) What is the response of the Houston area coalitions to the acceptance of government money to support their social services? Specifically, to what extent are the coalition leaders aware of the charitable choice provision? How have they responded and how has it influenced their attitudes towards government finding?

In this paper we first describe the charitable choice provision and then document the organizational characteristics, financial structure, and social service programs of the coalitions. We then describe the extent to which the coalitions are aware of "charitable choice," how many are utilizing government funds for their social service programs, and, finally, their willingness to accept such funds in the future.


This research was conducted in two phases. In the summer of 1998, as part of our Religion, Ethnicity and New Immigrants project (see Ebaugh and Chafetz 2000), we studied fourteen faith-based coalitions in Harris County, many of which provided social services to immigrants. Interviews conducted with leaders (usually an executive director) in each coalition focused on organizational history and structure, budget, programs, and client population. In the course of this research, the charitable choice provision became a public policy issue in Texas and several of the coalitions indicated that they were investigating the option of applying for government funds. During spring, 2000, we conducted a second series of interviews with the coalition leaders during which we focused specifically upon government funding and charitable choice. The same person was interviewed in both phases except at four ministries where the leadership had changed. In some cases, those most involved with accounting and administrative functions related to government funds were interviewed in addition to the director. Representatives from the Texas Department of Human Services and the Houston-Galveston Area Council,an organization with oversight responsibility for welfare-to- work training programs, were also interviewed.

In addition to the interviews, each coalition was asked to provide client statistics and budget reports for the years 1995 through 1999. As other research of faith-based organizations has found (Printz 1998; Cnaan 1997), there are problems associated with relying on coalition data. Several were unable to provide budget reports or data on client numbers and characteristics. Furthermore, a lack of standardized reporting methods makes comparisons difficult among those able to supply such data. Direct services to the needy often take priority over exact record keeping and administrative detail. Fluctuations in client numbers can also result from a number of factors unrelated to welfare policies. These factors include: 1) resources available to the coalitions; 2) leadership in the coalitions; 3) coalition policies and strategies; and 4) client needs that result from shifting demographics, neighborhood change, and informal networks that encourage or discourage seeking assistance. The many problems associated with both the accuracy and the interpretation of client and budget reports led us to conduct rich interviews in order to augment the quantitative data.


The charitable choice guarantees outlined in Section 104 of PRWORA apply to programs operating under TANF, food stamp, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income programs (Center for Public Justice 1996). During the past three years, the charitable choice provision has been included in additional legislation, such as the Community Services Block Grant, juvenile justice bills, and programs for substance abuse treatment (Ashcroft 2000). The Community Solutions Act of 2001 (H.R.7) includes a provision to expand charitable choice, as well as other incentives related to Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

The charitable choice provision in PRWORA includes several stipulations designed to protect the rights of benefit recipients. First, faith-based providers may not discriminate among clients on the basis of religion. Second they may not require that beneficiaries participate in religious practices in order to obtain goods or services. Finally, an accessible, alternative provider with services of equal value must be made available within a reasonable period of time for beneficiaries who object to receiving services from a faith-based organization. However, both PRWORA and the proposed H.R.7 bill allow religious organizations receiving government funds to discriminate in their hiring practices by preserving exemptions outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Texas' Faith-Based Poverty-Fighting Bill (H.B. 2017) requires that the state's workforce development and human services departments promote partnerships with faith-based organizations ("Faith in Action" 2000). Moreover, the state has applied the concept beyond the guidelines in Section 104 and added "charitable choice language" to all Texas Department of Human Services contracts, regardless of the funding stream (Texas Department of Human Services 2000).

The National Congregational Study is the only national survey that examines congregational support for the charitable choice concept (Chaves 1999). Only 24 percent of congregations in this study were aware of charitable choice, only 3 percent receive government money, and 15 percent actually have policies prohibiting the use of government funding (Chaves 1999). However, 37 percent of congregations indicated that they would be interested in applying for government funds. Cnaan's (2000) more recent study of 887 congregations in Philadelphia shows that while only 7 percent of their clergy are familiar with charitable choice, almost two-thirds thought their congregations would be willing to apply for government funds. Both surveys, however, use congregations as the unit of analysis and therefore do not address how faith-based coalitions may respond to charitable choice and Bush's faith-based initiative.


Organizational Structure

There has been little documentation of the structure and work of ecumenical and interfaith coalitions. One exception, Cnaan (1999), identifies interfaith agencies and ecumenical coalitions as one of six types of religious service organizations. He describes coalitions as joint efforts involving non-religious organizations, local congregations and denominations for "purposes of community solidarity, social action, and/or providing large scale services that are beyond the scope of a single congregation." Similarly, Bos (1988) offers two defining characteristics of faith-based coalitions: 1) they bring together various congregations of a local community into a single organization; and 2) they provide social ministries ranging from emergency financial assistance to ongoing programs, such as child care and services for the elderly. According to Bos (1988), these organizations may use labels such as coalitions, community ministries, clusters, associations, or neighborhood ministries. The Interfaith Community Ministries Network, a national organization founded in 1988, promotes the development and support of faith- based coalitions and has identified close to 1,400 across the United States.

The Harris County faith-based coalitions were established independently of one another in the mid-1980s at the height of Houston's oil industry related recession. By the mid-1980s, Houston had lost 200,000 jobs and had an unemployment rate of 13 percent (Feagin 1988). The economic downturn coincided with a dramatic 60 percent increase in Houston's Hispanic population that included many undocumented immigrants (Rodriguez 1993). During this period, congregations were bombarded with requests for assistance from both white-collar workers and unskilled laborers. The churches responded by forming neighborhood coalitions to make resources stretch further and to provide a method for screening requests so that the legitimate needs in their communities could be addressed equitably. The service area boundaries for each coalition are defined by zipcodes and enforced rather strictly.

Each coalition is comprised of area congregations that pledge to support the community ministry with volunteers, financial contributions, and in-kind donations. The structure, policies, and scope of the coalitions vary, but there is what one director referred to as a "sisterhood" among them. At various times most, if not all, of the coalitions in the study maintained a paid membership in an umbrella organization that recently disbanded. This organization provided the coalitions with networking opportunities and served as a centralized body for grant writing and the fiscal agent of a governmental emergency shelter grant.1

In total, 279 religious congregations support 14 coalitions. The number of member congregations within each varies from the smallest coalition, with 10 member churches, to the largest comprised of 47 congregations. Membership across the 14 coalitions is almost completely composed of Protestant and Catholic churches. Overall, 59.5 percent of the 279 congregations were moderate/liberal Protestant churches, 22.2 percent were conservative Protestant, 10.4 percent were Catholic, and 7.9 percent did not fit into any of these categories. Four coalitions have by-laws that restrict their membership to Christian congregations. Of the remaining 10, only 5 include members other than traditional Protestant or Catholic churches. Two coalitions include Jewish synagogues and one has a Mormon congregation. The fourth is the largest and most diverse, with Mormon, Church of Christian Unity, Baha'i, and Jewish congregations. One coalition reported that it tried to recruit outside the Jewish and Christian faiths and lost several conservative member churches as a result. The staff and volunteers observed at the coalition sites were predominantly nonHispanic white, as are most member congregations, although respondents reported some diversity within their member congregations.

Most coalition directors reported that member congregation clergy are not actively involved in their work. Each coalition has a Board of Trustees that is typically composed of two representatives from each member congregation. Most boards are technically responsible for decisions regarding budget, programs, facilities, and staff, but they vary in their level of involvement. Although the coalition boards have final approval over major decisions, it was apparent that directors' recommendations are typically followed.

By phase two of our study, only one coalition did not have a paid director. The responsibility level of this position varies across the coalitions as a function of budget, staff size, and the number and complexity of the social services offered. At least five directors began as volunteers when their coalitions were started. This includes the directors of the largest coalition, with a staff of 70 and 1,800 volunteers, and one of the smaller coalitions that has no other paid staff, only 10 member congregations, and approximately 30 volunteers. Two of the coalitions have part-time directors who are pastors of member churches. Other paid positions frequently found in the coalitions include managers of resale shops and specific programs, funds-development coordinators, and clerical and accounting staff. The one coalition without a paid director is adamant about wanting to remain a "ministry, not an agency" and only reluctantly hired a manager for its resale shop because this job was becoming too difficult for its aging volunteers.

Regardless of the number of paid positions, all of the coalitions depend on volunteers for their daily operations. Each coalition has a core volunteer workforce with assigned work schedules and duties, as well as occasional volunteers who help during peak periods. All but one coal\ition estimated that the average age of its volunteer staff is over 65, and several reported an average age of 70 or older. Almost all indicated that it is difficult to recruit younger volunteers; three directors reported that their member congregations are "graying" and experiencing a decline in membership.

Many of the coalitions have at least some Christian-based reading material in their waiting room and religious art on the walls. However, "no proselytizing" is the predominant policy among the Harris County coalitions. Most directors stated that their staff would only discuss spiritual matters if clients initiated such discussions. Several have specifically trained volunteers to avoid religious issues because of the different denominations and faiths represented in the coalitions. Others reported that many of their volunteers are not comfortable "witnessing" to clients. Only two coalition directors indicated that they might occasionally counsel clients from a religious perspective. The director of one of these stated:

I just don't feel like we can hand out food and money and then neglect the spiritual. From a personal viewpoint, that's where we know the change is going to happen ... We help anyone who walks through our doors and meets the criteria for needing assistance. Whether they ask for prayer or a Bible or not, they're going to get help, but [spirituality] is the underlying, hopefully the foundation, of our ministry.

Social Services

Many coalitions operate solely as emergency assistance providers, offering services such as food, clothing, and limited financial assistance with rent and utilities. Policies for food distribution are fairly lenient and flexible, but most limit financial assistance to one or two times a year and a few require that clients prove they have experienced an emergency. One director explained the coalition's reasons for providing emergency assistance only:

There's a spirit among some of the people ... that is reflective of their church culture, where a small church that carries on a neighborhood program is probably the way that you ought to do things .... So we have a pantry for folks and we have a place where they can get clothes if they really need them, and if they're really in dire straits we can give them $50 ... that's probably about all we ought to be doing. So there's a certain resistance [to our ministry] becoming too broad, too involved, or any significant program that is going to take some case management.

A few coalitions have changed their policies and programs in response to social policy reforms, underemployment, and demographic changes in their communities. Some have found it necessary to make exceptions to 30-day limits on food assistance because clients are unable to make it to the end of the month. Many reported that employment alone is not the solution:

We used to think if we could help somebody get a job they would be okay. Now we know they can both be working and they still won't be okay. That's like a whole shift in our thoughts that was always our thought 5 or 10 years ago - get these people employed. Well, they're employed but they're not making it. They're employed maybe full-time with several different little jobs and no insurance.

Six coalitions have added job-related programs that help clients find employment or improve their wage earning potential. These services range from job posting systems to training for computer skills and certificate programs. Many stated that clients also need training in "life skills" in order to break the cycle of poverty. Several have incorporated courses on topics such as money management and nutrition.

Three coalitions serve the immigrant population with programs such as ESL and citizenship classes, and all operate under a "don't ask, don't tell policy" in regards to immigrant status. During phase one of this study, two coalition directors reported having policies prohibiting services for undocumented immigrants because it was a "touchy issue" with some of their conservative congregations. By phase two, both coalitions had changed this policy. One director explained that they changed their policy because they realized that stringent immigration laws and the expense of legalization were prohibiting many clients from obtaining legal status, which had been the coalition's primary goal:

It would be different if we could say 'well, if we don't serve them, then they're never going to come to the United States' and [our policy] would be curtailing the problem. But that's not the fact. The fact is that they're already over here and if there's no way for them to get their legalization, and they have kids that need to be fed and they live in our area, then I feel like they should be treated like other clients that we serve.

Healthcare, shelter, childcare and services for senior citizens are areas that many directors believe are underserved. Two coalitions have added childcare services and programs for the elderly, such as recreation, house repairs, daily phone contact, transportation, and special delivery services. One of these coalitions, the largest in this study, offers a wide range of centralized programs to its community and operates out of an 80,000 square foot building specifically designed for its special programs. Some of the services that are unique to this Harris County coalition include a children's medical and dental clinic, a family violence center for battered women and children, a seniors' center complete with gymnasium, and a day-time facility for the homeless that coordinates with member congregations to provide around-the-clock shelter.


Only five coalitions provided client statistics for emergency assistance given both in 1995, the year prior to welfare reform, and in 1999. Five coalitions were unable to provide any client statistics. One provided reports for 1996 and 1997 only, one provided information for 1999 only, and one provided reports for all years except 1999. One provided reports for 1995 and 1999, but the manner in which the numbers were reported was difficult to interpret and therefore not included in this analysis.

The aggregate number of families served from 1995 to 1999 by the five coalitions reporting for these years decreased by 7.7 percent. Three coalitions reported a decrease in the number of families who received emergency assistance during this time period and 2 reported an increase. The largest decrease was 47.5 percent at a coalition that experienced a 68.3 percent decrease in the number of Hispanic clients during this 4- year period. The number of Blacks and nonHispanic whites decreased at this coalition by 13.3 percent and 47.0 percent, respectively. The director believes that client numbers are declining in her area because more people are working, which she attributes partly to welfare reform and its work requirements. She stated that Hispanic numbers are down partly because this population is working but also reported that she has been told by many of her Hispanic clients that their undocumented friends are afraid to come because of confusion about welfare reform and fears of being deported.

Of the coalitions that reported changes in clients between 1995 and 1999, the largest coalition experienced a 19.4 percent decrease in requests for emergency assistance. The number of Hispanics they served in 1999 decreased by 30.0 percent, Black clients decreased by 18.7 percent, and non-Hispanic whites by 8.2 percent. The third coalition experienced a 13.6 percent decrease with the largest decrease, 42.3 percent, also among Hispanic clients. Non-Hispanic white and Black clients decreased by 17.9 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively.

The largest total increase reported by a coalition was 34.9 percent. This coalition served 56.2 percent more Blacks and 54.8 percent more non-Hispanic whites in 1999 than in 1995. Hispanic clients increased by only 6.3 percent, largely after fall, 1998. From 1993 until the fall of 1998, their policies excluded undocumented immigrants, and the number of Hispanic clients had declined 4.0 percent between 1995 and the time that they changed their policy. The second coalition with an increase reported serving 20.2 percent more clients in 1999 than 1995. However, ethnic data from this coalition could not be interpreted because in 1999 over 2,000 of their clients were not assigned to an ethnic category. The largest number served by this coalition occurred in 1996, with a 31.1 percent increase over the previous year, due to urban revitalization efforts in the area that resulted in the demolition of several low income apartment buildings. Those displaced sought assistance from the coalition. A third coalition that was unable to provide data for 1999 reported that client numbers have been steadily increasing with a 23.3 percent gain between 1995 and 1998.

The two coalitions that served the largest number of Asian families in 1999 reported that the number had more than doubled since 1995. The number served is low, however, representing only 3 percent of the clients at each of these ministries. Every coalition director reported that the ministries serve few Asian families because "Asians do not seek help outside their own communit ies."

In the aggregate, the proportions of Black and Hispanic clients across all five coalitions shifted substantially when comparing 1995 and 1999. The number of Blacks served increased by 7 percent; Blacks represented 40.2 percent of the total clients in 1999 compared to 28.3 percent in 1995. Hispanic clients decreased by 43.7 percent; in 1999 they represented only 27.8 percent of the clients compared to 37.3 percent in 1995. The proportion of non-Hispanic white clients changed little, declining from 34.0 percent in 1995 to 31.2 percent in 1999. The number of Asian clients doubled between 1995 and 1999 but still represented only .8 percent of the total clients served in 1999.

Several coalition dire\ctors attributed the declining number of Hispanic clients to confusion and fear within the immigrant community regarding welfare and immigration reforms. One coalition director reported: "Over the last couple of years we saw our Hispanic clientele drop off because they weren't certain if we would turn them in. We try to get the word out that we're here to help - that we have nothing to do with immigration." However, several directors believe that the confusion about policies does not last, and that the clients return once word is spread that a coalition will not turn them in to the INS. These directors think Hispanic numbers are declining because they are able to find jobs, albeit low waged, due to the robust economy and the thriving service industry and because of cost-sharing household structures utilized by many Hispanics.

Financial Structure

Seven of the 14 coalitions provided budget reports, with only one providing budget reports for all the years requested. Therefore, the discussion of finances must be general and based on trends rather than detailed budget data. Originally, funds for the coalitions came solely from their member congregations. The coalitions have developed additional sources of income as they have expanded their programs and facilities. Revenues reported ranged from $130,000 to approximately $5 million. Resale shops are the primary source of revenues for all but one of the seven coalitions that provided budget information, their proceeds ranging from 14.4 to 66.5 percent of their total budgets. Only two of the fourteen coalitions interviewed do not have a resale shop. The shops are primarily stocked with second-hand items donated by the congregations and other members of the community. Shop merchandise includes clothing, toys, housewares, furniture, appliances, and computers. In addition to generating funds to support the ministry, the shops serve as clothing closets for a coalition's clients. The largest coalition realized over $1 million dollars in 1999 from its two resale shops, which represents 20.2 percent of its $5.1 million revenues.

The congregations remain important financial partners and provide critical support through their volunteers and in-kind donations that help stock the food pantries and resale shops. Financial contributions from member congregations ranged from approximately $16,500 to $250,000. The largest percentage of total income that was reported for member contributions was 25.5 percent in 1999, by a coalition with 34 member congregations and revenues of almost $1 million. In comparison, the smallest percentage from member churches reported for the same year was 9.6 percent by a coalition with 28 members and approximately $626,000 in revenues. Additional sources of contributions include special fund raising events, and donations from corporations, individuals, and civic organizations.

Although 9 of the coalitions have received some government funds, only 4 have had sole fiscal responsibility for these grants. Government money received by the coalitions is primarily limited to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds that support their food pantries. FEMA funds are funneled through Interfaith Ministries, a faith-based agency that provides services across the entire Houston metropolitan area. Interfaith Ministries agreed to operate as fiscal agent for these FEMA funds because many of the coalitions did not have the administrative capabilities to meet accounting and reporting requirements. In addition, an emergency shelter grant (ESG) was applied for and administered by the now disbanded umbrella organization that dispersed funds to the local coalitions. Only three coalitions received over 10 percent of their revenues from any government funding for the years reported in this study. One coalition has a policy that actually restricts government funding to 12 percent of its total budget.

The largest coalition has received federal grants to help fund its Family Violence Center and is one of the few that has utilized government support other than the FEMA and ESG grants. However, government grants represented only 7 percent of this coalition's $5 million revenues for 1999. Another coalition, which derived approximately 30 percent of its 1998 revenues from the government, has utilized funds from a Community Development Block Grant. One coalition has significantly increased the degree to which it depends on the emergency shelter grant. Between 1995 and 1999 the amount of grant money it received tripled and the amount it received in unrestricted funds from member congregations decreased by 9.9 percent. As a result, emergency shelter grant funds accounted for over 50 percent of the coalition's $130,000 revenues in 1999.

Emergency assistance is the core service offered by the ministries. Unrestricted funds are imperative to meet this demand. For example, the emergency shelter grant disallows undocumented immigrants, a restriction that excludes many of their clients. Furthermore, the grant requires that clients' needs stem from an emergency experienced within the last 30 days. One director pointed out that many clients are still working through their problems long after the crisis event occurs and do not seek help until after the 30-day window has closed. Therefore, the coalitions are dependent on contributions and unrestricted funds to provide services that meet all of their clients' needs.

Several coalitions face challenges to maintaining their budgets, as well as their volunteer workforce. Contributing factors that were mentioned or observed in the interview process include such changes as aging member congregations, declining enthusiasm, and leadership transitions. Some coalitions manage sparse resources by limiting the number of clients they will serve in a day or the number of hours or days that they are open. Several commented on the impact of changing demographics in their area, such as one director who reported several member congregations are "shifting to the low end of the socioeconomic status:"

In [this neighborhood], because of the ethnic changes, you have significant Anglo congregations whose membership is rapidly graying, just like the neighborhoods .... The kids who became white-collar all moved away .... The only ones who stayed here were the unskilled/ semi-skilled ones who didn't go to college, didn't even finish high school. They tried to follow their dads who got good jobs on the ship channel in the SOs and 60s ... but they can't get those jobs like Dad got .... You've got a whole lot of folk for whom a $100,000 budget for a church is a fair budget. When you start talking about [the ministry] having a $150,000 budget - you're starting to stretch their ability to filter those numbers.

Attiudes towards Charitable Choice

Nonprofit organizations, including most coalitions, had access to government funds prior to 1996. The charitable choice provision, however, increases the potential for partnerships between the government and faith-based organizations. It has the potential to appeal to "pervasively sectarian" organizations that have avoided, or been ineligible, for government funding in the past (Monsma 1996). Therefore, we asked each coalition director to tell us how the charitable choice provision has influenced their attitude towards government funding and whether their ministry has taken any specific steps in response to this legislation.

Six, or nearly half of the directors interviewed, were not even aware of the charitable choice provision. Upon having charitable choice explained to them, only one of these six indicated any real interest in the concept. All but one of the eight who were aware of charitable choice had attended workshops or taken other steps to learn more about it. Three of the eight were not interested in pursuing charitable choice funding opportunities. There was general interest among the other five, but all expressed some concerns.

In total, eight coalition directors indicated that they were not interested in pursuing government grants. Three of these specifically stated that they remain concerned that accepting government funds would interfere with the spiritual aspect of their mission. All three, however, also cited problems with the costs or scale of programs associated with government-funded programs. For example, the director of one small coalition stated that the charitable choice provision might have made a difference in their attitude towards government funding but their ministry does not have the people or the facilities to administer such grants. The director of a coalition with a $770,000 annual budget reported that they recently eliminated their part-time grant writing position because the cost of obtaining grant funds outweighed the revenues derived from them. Indirect costs associated with grants and religious autonomy are both important issues for this coalition director:

We have a non-proselytizing clause in our by-laws [because] we're made up of 31 different churches and 8 or 9 different denominations. But that doesn't restrict us from sharing Christ and the love of God through our work and what we say to people. I tell you this, if a grant is going to prevent that, then no, I won't even look at it because I'm not going to jeopardize that for anybody. But at the same time, it is also a budget and time issue .... If you can beef up the giving of your churches - I'd rather spend time working with my ministers about giving more financially than spending the effort writing a governmental grant that may be restrictive in some way.

Three directors explicitly identified administrative requirements as their reason for opposing government funding. One of these, with an annual budget that is just under $1 million dollars, stated that government grants require too much administrative oversight and are generally not in line with their overall mission. Another director made it clearthat guarantees protecting the religious character of faith-based programs will not alter the ministry's attitudes towards government funding. She indicated that she discourages any emphasis on the spiritual dimension at the ministry because they are an ecumenical organization and she does not believe in proselytizing. This coalition has recently hired a grant writer but it is focusing its efforts on private foundations because there are too many administrative problems with government grants. Similar to many secular nonprofit organizations, virtually all coalition directors complained about excessive administrative problems with government grants, including short deadlines and last-minute changes in the application process, lack of flexibility in defining contractual agreements that apply to the ministry, bureaucratic reporting requirements, and poor communication and instructions from the funding sources regarding grant applications and awards.

The board or member congregations at two coalitions are generally opposed to government funds. The volunteer leader of one coalition without a paid director reported that she did not really know why, but board members have always been and remain opposed to government funding. The director at the other coalition found that charitable choice had not changed members' opinions about "separation between church and state" when he informally polled a "few congregations." When asked if these opinions were related to maintaining the religious character of the ministry he replied: "No, [member congregations] believe that a congregation should be able to take care of the community on its own. Some believe it is more the responsibility of the churches, some believe that the government should not interfere with what we're doing."

Six coalition directors expressed varying degrees of interest in government funding and charitable choice. One was not aware of the provision prior to the interview, but responded favorably to the concept when it was summarized for her. This coalition has recently constructed new facilities and has plans to expand its services. She stated that one of their goals is to investigate grants further and she will equally consider applying for foundation and government grants.

Three directors, who have attended workshops and researched the charitable choice concept, have found presentations explaining the legislation to be confusing. One of these directors administers an annual budget of over $700,000 and has been steadily increasing the amount of grant money that the coalition receives from both the county and private foundations. This coalition was very enthusiastic about charitable choice until the director and a few volunteers tried to learn more about the legislation and how to apply for funds covered by the provision. The director's comments are an example of the confusion that surrounds the charitable choice provision and a general misunderstanding among many interviewed that there is a "pot of charitable choice dollars:"

One of our [volunteer] grant writers kind of took it on as a mission and she called all over the state and all their numbers and everything else and she finally yelled "uncle." We keep hearing it's out there and [state agencies] are all trying to get into faith- based and non-profit organizations and things - but I haven't heard of anybody getting it. I'm assuming people are, but you know, you must have to know the tricks of the trade.

Another coalition director who expressed confusion has been investigating charitable choice. Her hope was that the charitable choice policy might help them recruit more conservative churches as members because of its guarantees regarding the religious character of faith-based organizations receiving government funds. However, she stated that the charitable choice provision is not the deciding factor for her when considering funding options. She looks for funds that will enhance their programs and will not apply for government funds that do not readily fit their existing programs.

One very small coalition recently hired its first paid director and is aggressively pursuing new funding opportunities, including government grants. This director was actively involved in preparing a proposal for the Local Innovations Project Grant, Texas' funding pool that involves federal welfare funds included in the charitable choice provision. The director believed they had a solid proposal and he is disappointed and perplexed that it was rejected; he still plans to pursue government grants as long as they fit within the coalition's mission.

One other director expressed frustration about how grants covered by the charitable choice provision are awarded. She argues that local coalitions cannot compete because the funding agencies prefer to deal with large organizations that can offer "one- stop shopping." This coalition has a $5 million annual budget but less than 10 percent of its revenues come from government funding. The director is frustrated because the state's aggressive implementation of charitable choice has not increased their access to government funds. However, she stresses that even if government funds were more available, the ministry would still be wary about becoming too dependent on government funds because these funding streams can "dry up." The coalition only applies for grants that are compatible with their existing services and will not design programs solely in response to a grant offering. She complained that she does not think the government realizes that it is asking for a complete change in the non-profit safety net that could put small ministries "out of business" or lead to problems if they become too dependent on the government:

For example, what if [a ministry] got a $500,000 grant to get some vans to transport the elderly. They get the program up and running great. Then [government] goals and interests change and nobody is really excited about helping the elderly any more. What would [the ministry] do with the program if all the money disappeared? How would they keep funding a program like that if the money were gone?

Interfaith Ministries, the faith-based agency that serves as the coalitions' fiscal agent for FEMA funds, indicated that many of the smaller community coalitions have approached them about collaborating to apply for additional government grants. This agency differs from the zipcode-bound coalitions that focus primarily on emergency assistance in their local communities. It offers citywide programs in four major service areas - children and youth services, refugee assistance, health and nutrition, and senior volunteer activities - and operates with a $5 million annual budget. Approximately 60 percent of its revenues come from government funding, while only 4 percent is derived from faith-based groups. The agency has struggled to maintain a balance between managing the business of social service ministry and maintaining its ties with the faith community. In an interview, the director pointed out how some of the community-based coalitions have changed over the years:

In the early mid-80s when the [coalitions] really came to life it was out of necessity for economic reasons .... They got to the point where they [needed to do] more - they needed [to offer] job training ... they needed all of this kind of thing.... So these little ministries are beginning to look a lot more like we are. We are 58 percent government contracts, we run social service programs - we don't do grass roots ministries. Those social ministries that have survived have gone from that model of the grass roots mom and pop kind of thing to really professional staff... I'm not sure what's going to happen to some of the [smaller] social ministries unless they band together to make it. I don't see that some of them are going to have the resources to do that.


Policy makers are targeting religiously affiliated and community- based solutions to fill the social service gap created by PRWORA. Famsley (2000) maintains that the underlying philosophy of welfare reform is about a "shift toward models of community rather than individual development," an agenda in which congregations are anticipated to play a key role. Indeed, studies of single congregations have demonstrated that they are significantly involved in social service delivery. However, a large portion of the social outreach of 279 congregations in Harris County is conducted through faith-based coalitions, an organizational model that has been too narrowly examined in the research surrounding faith-based social services. Welfare reform pressures and government requirements associated with charitable choice funding opportunities are likely to stimulate an increased interest among congregations in building coalitions and collaborating with intermediary organizations. It remains to be seen what effect this might have on religious-based charity. It is important that future research give more attention to defining and comparing organizational types of faithbased social service providers.

Although Texas has aggressively sought to expand the participation of faithbased social service providers as government contractors, the state and the coalitions have opposing interests that have made it difficult to initiate more partnerships between the two. Charitable choice advocates argue that the religious character of faith-based social services is the ingredient that enables them to be effective where others are not (Lowy 2000) and it is the religious character of faith-based organizations that Section 104 was designed to protect. Even though coalition workers are motivated to service by their spiritual beliefs, the organizations downplay overt spirituality because of their ecumenical nature and their conviction that ministering to material needs is their primary goal. The few coalitions that have avoided gover\nment funding in the past expressly to protect the spiritual dimension of their ministry have not been persuaded to change their attitudes towards government support by charitable choice guarantees. Furthermore, arguments in favor of faith-based programs, as well as many of the funding opportunities, are largely directed towards relational types of programs, a service area which few of the Harris County coalitions have entered.

Farnsley (2000) argues that in addition to local characteristics such as race, economic base and religious tradition, there are subtle nuances in the social environment that influence what congregations will desire and be able to do. We have demonstrated in this paper that even within the same county there can be great variation in organizational focus and service provision among coalitions. Some of the factors that might impact this variation include congregational involvement, community demographics, local resources, leadership, theological orientation and client base. The variability among the Harris County coalitions indicates the necessity for further analysis at both the local and national level. Future research should analyze the local socio-religious context of faith- based providers to identify the variables that impact these social services.

Despite the state's efforts, many coalitions remain confused about charitable choice and most still have concerns about government funding because of the administrative burdens and additional costs they impose - issues not addressed by either Section 104 or H.R.7. Although a few coalitions have increased their reliance on government funding, most directors believe it is important that they not become too dependent on the government. Directors are concerned that government policies and priorities may change. They prefer grants that fit their existing mission and do not want to develop programs in response to current funding priorities that could later evaporate. Also, government grants may have eligibility requirements that exclude some clients. There is a great deal of confusion and variation in client eligibility for government funds, and the coalitions have received grants in the past that exclude the undocumented population and clients who have not experienced an emergency within the past thirty days. It is critical to their mission that the coalitions continue to receive unrestricted funds from the congregations, resources some fear they could lose if they become too involved as government contractors. In addition, the coalitions' reliance on the congregations for volunteer support and donations provides an important outreach opportunity for congregations' members. Some fear that increased involvement with the government could result in the loss of congregational support, an event that could lead to dramatic changes in the nature of faith-based social services.

Representatives from state agencies acknowledge that there is not a "level playing field" in the competition for government contracts. Compliance with expensive regulations, performance measurements and sophisticated reporting requirements make it difficult for smaller organizations, both secular and faithbased alike, to compete for government funding. State agencies have suggested that faith-based social service providers, in particular, collaborate with larger organizations that can serve as intermediaries, whereas some faith- based organizations argue that burdensome and exclusionary requirements should be waived for religious service providers. Barring such exemptions, faith-based organizations that receive government funding might well experience changes in their policies and programs.

The charitable choice provision, as well as the proposed expansion of charitable choice (H.R.7), were designed to address faith-based organizations' concerns regarding religious autonomy, an issue that was assumed to be the primary deterrent limiting a successful partnership between faith-based providers and the government. Our research in Harris County indicates that there are many practical issues to be resolved, issues that are not addressed by the charitable choice provision, before faith-based coalitions will accept government funding.

1 The umbrella organization disbanded due to declining membership. Reasons given by the coalitions for withdrawing from the organization include lack of interest in receiving grant money or having a fiscal agent, grant administration problems, and lack of benefit derived from their paid membership.


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Paula F. Pipes*

University of Houston

Helen Rose Ebaugh

Unity of Howton

* Direct all correspondence to Paula F. Pipes, Department of Sociology, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204-3012, e-mail: We would like to thank Janet S.Chafetz, Ram A. Cman and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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