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David Reingold
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Maureen Pirog
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Elisabeth Andrews
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, July 23, 2007

Study: Faith-based organizations serve neediest people

Effects of welfare reform on help-seeking appear minimal

July 19, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A study of welfare recipients in Indiana demonstrates that clients who seek social services from faith-based organizations (FBOs) are more likely to have experienced homelessness, not having enough to eat and other forms of extreme poverty in comparison to those who seek help only from nonreligious organizations (NROs).

The study, coathored by David Reingold and Maureen Pirog of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, also examined early effects of welfare reform in Indiana, and concluded that the reforms had not produced significant change in stated needs or help-seeking behavior.

The study found that clients who received help from FBOs were more likely to report not having had enough to eat; experiencing homelessness; having utilities turned off; having a disability, health problem or drug problem that limits ability to work; panhandling; selling food stamps or writing bad checks; and selling plasma to get by. These results suggest that FBOs serve unusually needy individuals, Reingold said.

The study, "Empirical Evidence on Faith-Based Organizations in an Era of Welfare Reform," was published in the June 2007 issue of Social Service Review. Professor David Brady of Duke University also contributed to the research. Results were obtained from a telephone survey of more than 1,300 welfare recipients and face-to-face interviews with 295 representatives from social service agencies in seven Indiana counties.

The researchers were able to examine the effects of welfare reforms due to Indiana's exemption of a random set of welfare recipients for research purposes. The reforms, which were designed to replace cash assistance with transitional services, included a personal responsibility agreement, a time limit on adult eligibility for cash assistance, a family cap (eliminating incentive to have more children) and financial sanctions for client failure to meet parenting and program responsibilities.

Respondents who were subject to new welfare reforms were no more or less likely to seek help from FBOs than respondents who were exempted. However, clients who had been sanctioned for not meeting the terms under the reforms -- and were thus eligible for assistance only for their children and not for themselves -- were more likely to seek help from FBOs and more likely to report needing help in general.

The results also showed that most people who sought help from FBOs also received help from other sources. Among those who received help from FBOs, only 2 percent did not receive help from elsewhere, while 28 percent report receiving help from one other source, and 80 percent report receiving help from two other sources. FBOs therefore did not appear to be a first line of defense, Reingold said.

Overall, the results suggest that welfare reform has not substantially increased the demand for services from FBOs, the researchers concluded.

One additional finding was that FBOs were more likely than NROs to have tightened eligibility criteria following welfare reforms, with 27 percent of agencies reporting having tightened eligibility compared to 8.3 percent of NROs.

Pirog said this tightening of criteria was a concern, because the argument for incorporating FBOs into the delivery of social services relies on the assumption that they are responsive to the needs of the poor. However, based on anecdotal evidence from their interviews with agency representatives, the researchers suggested that FBOs may feel as though their generosity is being abused by some clients who seek material but not spiritual assistance.

To speak with Reingold, call 812-855-0732 or email Pirog can be reached at 812-855-0732 and