WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (RNS) Faith-based providers of social services acrossthecountry report that more Americans are working as a result of a 1996welfare reform law, but many continue to be poor after leaving welfare.

In responses to a nonscientific survey distributed by the NationalCouncil of Churches, representatives of community programs voiced mixedopinions about the success of programs such as Temporary Assistance toNeedy Families. TANF, as it is known, and programs dealing with foodstamps and child care expire in 2002 and must be reauthorized byCongress to continue.

The survey results were announced Thursday (Feb. 15) during athree-day forum sponsored by the NCC during which members of ecumenical,interfaith and grass-roots organizations worked to developrecommendations concerning the reauthorization of the welfarereform-related programs.

The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the NCC's Washington director, saidthe survey indicated that working families are seeking the help ofchurches for a range of needs.

"They're not just coming for food," she said. "They're coming forhelp with their mortgage, with their rent, with utilities."

The survey, which garnered about 150 responses from 34 states, alsoshowed a disparity between the services some people are seeking and theability of churches to help them. For instance, many churches provideassistance with food, counseling and clothing but are not able to helpwith utilities, housing costs and job training.

Mary Anderson Cooper, the former associate director of NCC'sWashington office and the compiler of the survey data, said there is a"tremendous variety of services" being offered to low-income people byreligious organizations. Services range from after-school and mentoringprograms to the teaching of English as a second language to car repair.

NCC officials hope their survey results and other information theyhave gathered about social services already provided by churches mayprove helpful as the White House develops its new Office of Faith-Basedand Community Initiatives.

"We do think that the president and the staff he's putting togetherneed to be mindful that it has to be a partnership between the church,the private sector and government," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC generalsecretary. "This can't be simply a dumping onto the church those issueswhich the government doesn't want to deal with directly."
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