Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor, New Republic:

Jacob S. Hacker finds that expanding the role of religious organizations in the delivery of social welfare services is an idea that shouldn't be taken seriously ("Faith Healers," June 28). His critique is misguided at best

Like most defenders of the status quo, Hacker misses the critical failure of top-down approaches. He overlooks the fact that, for more than 35 years, government has failed to combat generational poverty effectively. Government has been good at writing checks but bad at fostering community life. Employing faith-based organizations is an alternative worth pursuing, and, in time, the research methodology that Hacker desires will evolve.

Hacker wrongly believes that nonprofits will be the only provider of services, as if this were a mere conservative scheme to shrink government. In fact, no serious proposals aim to eliminate the role of government. The most thought-out idea, proposed several years ago by former Senator Dan Coats, does diminish government's role, but it empowers taxpayers to direct their dollars to the charities that work locally.  Increased giving could replace some funding, and government would still have a role in shaping the underlying policy and providing quality control.

True, the lack of financial resources is a major problem, and it is no surprise that established nonprofit organizations now contracting with the government are wary.  However, studies have shown that tax credits for charitable giving increase the amount of donations, the number of donors, and the number of volunteer hours.  Taxpayers, however, need an incentive. A poll last year commissioned by the Beacon Hill Institute showed that 59 percent of the respondents in Massachusetts would increase their giving if government were to cut welfare spending. Sixty-eight percent said they would be inclined to give if government provided an incentive.

Competition between nonprofits benefits the consumers of such services. A welfare recipient could choose the nonprofit that best suits his or her day care, job training, and cash assistance needs. These options aren't available in the current system. 

Private religious and secular charities are untapped resources that can help ensure that welfare reform is a success. A charitable tax credit is the way to make the financing of those resources possible.   


Joseph Gallant
Beacon Hill Institute
Suffolk University
Boston, Massachusetts

This letter was published in the August 9, 1999 edition of the New Republic


Format revised on 18 August, 2004