The safety net and faith-based services

Ram A. Cnaan, Edward Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The focus of this policy article is not on the merit of faith-based initiative but on who serves the poor. The key argument is that in the United States, especially through its federal government, has increasingly abdicated "safety net" services of helping poor cope with the hardship of poverty. As we document, as a collective, Americans pay low taxes and turn away from using taxes to help poor people. Furthermore, the American government no longer financially supports the poor but rather provide them with work-incentive-based services. While the general public and their politicians have turned away from the poor, year in and year out faith-based communities and their congregations and organizations care for and actively serve those with the least resources. Thus, it is our position that the current administration needs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, but this office needs to adopt new approaches that are more community oriented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-336
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In this respect, the first question is what the American public thinks about the government role in welfare provision. In 2001, the NPR/Kaiser/Harvard study asked people to state if they support a list of possible increases in government involvement. Very telling, the programs that encourage work were rated very high and those of direct assistance to the poor were rated the lowest. For example, at the top of the list we find “expanding job training programs” (94% in favor), “expanding subsidized day care,” and “increasing the minimum wage (both with 85% in favor). “Increasing cash assistance for families,” however, was almost at the bottom of public interest, with only 54% in favor. It is clear that as far as public sentiments go, helping the poor getting a job has a strong public mandate but directly supporting the poor while in poverty is not a favorable public option. Similarly, a series of NORC studies from 1973 onward asked respondents if government should reduce income differences. Only about a quarter can be defined as strong supporters of such a measure. In 2001, a NPR/Kaiser/Harvard survey asked people why they like welfare reform and the number one answer was “The law requires people to go to work.” This statement was supported by 89% of respondents. Clearly central public opinion is that poverty is a personal responsibility and the government should focus its resources and programs on redirecting people to find and maintain work (Alesina & Glaeser, 2004).


  • Faith-based service
  • Policy
  • Safety net
  • Serving the poor
  • Work incentives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'The safety net and faith-based services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this