HD2 - Report of the Special Task Force Studying the Ways Faith-based Community Service Groups May Provide Assistance to Meet Social Needs

Executive Summary:

The original goal of the Special Task Force was to determine the best method to accomplish the goal of enhancing the implementation of the "charitable choice" provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, known as the Welfare Reform Act (P L 104-725). Congress included in this legislation the "charitable choice" provision which was intended to encourage states to contract with faith-based social services providers in the delivery of these welfare services while protecting the religious character of the organizations and the religious freedom of its clients.

In its first year, the Special Task Force made a number of recommendations (House Document No 103, 2000) all of which passed the General Assembly to:

• create a liaison office to provide outreach training networking information and assistance to faith-based and charitable organizations that wish to participate in the provision of social services

• encourage all state agencies to examine their program needs and include faith-based and charitable organizations, and encouraging private donations by eligible individuals to groups providing services to welfare recipients

• recommend budget language that would support some additional assistance to food banks to expand their current efforts

• evaluate the opportunities within the programs administered by the Department of Social Services to expand the use of vouchers for the purchase of social services in a fiscally and programmatically responsible manner where clients would be free to choose from among approved programs that meet general criteria for positive outcomes that can be measured

• expand the Virginia Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) to include donations from individuals to programs including faith-based organizations that meet the criteria of the program (Currently, only businesses and certain professionals qualify)

• extend the Special Task Force for an additional year to continue its work

In its second year of study, the Task Force held four meetings in Richmond and Norfolk to receive status reports on the Implementation of its recommendations made the previous year and to continue to examine the advisability of expanding the use of "charitable choice" within state programs and how to best accomplish this goal while meeting legal and constitutional constraints. To assure that the work of the Task Force was inclusive of all opinions each meeting set aside time for a public hearing to allow interested parties to share their information with the members. The Task Force heard reports from both advocates and opponents on how the implementation of "charitable choice" would work, including practical, as well as constitutional, issues.

The Task Force contracted with Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice in Washington D C (now with the White House Office on Faith-Based Initiatives) to produce a report on implementation of "charitable choice" in Virginia as well as other ways the government can promote greater social action by faith-based organizations.

The report, presented in November 2000, was adopted by the Task Force and serves as a suggested list of viable options that the state can implement to develop faith-based organizations as an important provider of social services. The Task Force used this document, as well as a number of recommendations made by Task Force members as well as other speakers appearing before the Task Force, to develop its final recommendations.

The Task Force also heard testimony about several new initiatives with community and faith-based groups, including Right Choices for Youth (reducing risky behavior), Power UP (providing computer training), and Operation Turnaround (reducing criminal recidivism). In fact, the Task Force learned in its first year of work the extent to which state and faith-based organizations already cooperate to provide needed services. Last year, existing relationships and programs continued to grow, helped, in some cases, by legislation passed by the 2000 General Assembly.

To better assess the extent and type of community cooperation that is already working to help provide social services, the Office of the Faith-Based Liaison, at the request of the Task Force conducted a survey of local Community Action Agencies and departments of social services to determine what sort of arrangements they had with faith-based and community organizations and to determine their unmet needs. The survey indicated that public agencies had arrangements that ranged from contractual to informal and that the faith-based and community organizations provided a wide variety of services. Unmet needs varied from one locality to another and also covered a wide spectrum: food, housing, transportation, childcare, credit counseling, companion services, mentoring, respite care, etc.

In connection with its October meeting, the Task Force also co-sponsored a one-day conference in Norfolk to introduce local faith-based and charitable organizations to the concept of charitable choice and to provide an open forum for all organizations.

The Task Force concluded the year by recommending that the General Assembly extend its work for another year, which was approved. A recommendation that the Secretary of Public Safety to evaluate the use of "charitable choice" in corrections with emphasis on expanding Operation Turnaround was incorporated into the work of the Task Force.

The recommendations of the Task Force and results are listed on page 22.