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NEWS STORY: Success of welfare reform to be measured by future soup lines

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Some state welfare rolls may be shrinking, but the debate over reform is just beginning, and the success of reform will be measured by the numbers in future soup lines and shelters, declared the leaders of some of the nation’s largest religious and charitable organizations. President Clinton has […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Some state welfare rolls may be shrinking, but the debate over reform is just beginning, and the success of reform will be measured by the numbers in future soup lines and shelters, declared 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 his administration’s efforts to overhaul welfare have worked. But many charitable organizations say they are finding themselves wrestling with how best to shore up 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 Thursday (Sept. 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 who 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 organizations 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 kitches. … 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:

_ Programs to ensure that all families with at least one parent working full-time can live above the poverty line.

_ Adopting a national program of youth development and assuring older Americans a secure retirement.

_ Creating a national system of child support collection.

_ Directly involving non-profit agencies in the creation of jobs for those moving off welfare.

Some nonprofits are concerned by the efforts of some non-traditional, for-profit companies trying to cash in on the millions of dollars in contracts becoming available for the delivery of social service and work programs.

Nonprofit organizations with a track record of training and employing workers”are probably the best intermediaries for businesses that are now lining up to take part”in the potentially lucrative block-grant programs targeted for welfare-to-work contracts, said Fred Grandy, head of Goodwill Industries International.

MJP END HAWKINS