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Richard Doty

Sheila Kennedy

Last modified: Thursday, November 21, 2002

Welfare research project at SPEA views faith-based organizations

The success of faith-based organizations in the delivery of welfare benefits is the subject of a research study now under way through the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Sheila Kennedy, SPEA assistant professor of law and public policy, is the principal investigator for the Charitable Choice Project.

Funding for the work is a $1.2 million grant from the Ford Foundation through the SPEA Center for Urban Policy and the Environment in Indianapolis.

"The 1996 federal welfare reform legislation was premised on the assumption that faith-based organizations do a better job at lower cost than traditional providers in such areas as job training and placement, drug counseling and other welfare services," Kennedy said. "But this assumption is neither supported nor contradicted by research data. Our project will begin to answer the question: are faith-based organizations more effective than secular ones?"

The SPEA project involves the states of Indiana, North Carolina and Massachusetts. Kennedy said it is one of the first and most comprehensive faith-based welfare studies in the country.

"We are following clients to compare results achieved by faith-based organizations with those of other providers," explained Kennedy, a lawyer with a background in government and public interest law. "In addition to efficiency and cost, we are focusing on three elements critical to the program's success. They are (1) the capacity of the faith-based organizations to deliver and the states to monitor the identified services, (2) the constitutional and fiscal accountability for resources, outcomes and processes, and (3) adherence to constitutional boundaries and the separation of church and state."

She said a key question is the effect of government contracting upon smaller faith-based groups. "Some critics of the charitable choice provisions of welfare reform say that with federal shekels come federal shackles. They worry about government co-opting religious organizations. This is an area we are investigating," she said.

The project began in June 2000 as a three-year study. Kennedy expects to report some interim findings next spring and deliver a final report within 18 months.

For more details, contact Kennedy at 317-274-2895 or