- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

More than 100 faith-based groups in nine states, including Virginia, are using government funds to deliver social services under an innovation passed as part of welfare reform, a study reports.

The collaborations are "a new model for how church and state can work together for the public good," said Amy Sherman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of the study, published this month by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Justice.

The center runs a Charitable Choice Tracking Project, named for the section of the 1996 welfare-reform law that allows faith-based groups to vie for federal contracts to deliver welfare services.

The faith-based groups are allowed to retain their religious character as service providers. They are forbidden, however, to use federal money to proselytize.

Welfare recipients decide whether to participate in a faith-based program or an alternative.

Ms. Sherman looked at charitable-choice collaborations in nine states California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

She found 125 collaborations that started since 1996.

Eighty-four of these collaborations involved direct or indirect funding, with the government awarding contracts that ranged from $5,000 to more than $500,000 to faith-based groups.

Other collaborations were nonfinancial: In some cases, for instance, congregations offered mentoring or life-skills classes to welfare recipients.

Wisconsin had the most collaborations, with 42. Virginia had 11.

Ms. Sherman found that more than half of the 125 groups were working with the government for the first time.

The study also found that government-bid application processes remained difficult for most faith-based groups. The lone exception was Texas, which has simplified its application process and "assigned staff members in each region to act as faith-community liaisons," Ms. Sherman wrote.

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