This speech was delivered by WPC director Jay Hein at a conference co-sponsored by the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and the Ohio Department of Human Services - Columbus, Ohio
My task this afternoon is to offer a policy perspective to the Joseph model which Bob (Woodson) so powerfully articulated for us today. Whereas Bob addressed the WHY of government and faith community partnerships, I have been asked to take a stab at addressing HOW such partnerships can take form and flourish.
This is a very important consideration. How effective is a sermon or a motivational half time talk by a football coach if there is not life change or enhanced performance as a result? Not much. Similarly, Bob's vision-casting goes for naught if we as government officials, community leaders and researchers do not build an infrastructure which turns vision into reality.
I have been in the unique position of being at both ends of the table. For most of my career, I have been in state government. It was during my last government position -- at the Wisconsin welfare-to-work shop -- that I met Bob and heard his message. While I was ready to sign up, many of my colleagues did not see the same thing. Sure, they liked what Bob had to say. As a matter of fact, the welfare reform chief even went so far to say that Bob expressed the principles behind Wisconsin's version of welfare reform better than anyone she had ever met.
However, when the talk turned to policy and contracts, it was back to business as usual. Politicians (and the staff who work for them) are a cautious breed -- again, I know because I was one of them. But the challenges we have before us in making welfare reform work are too great to handle with common solutions. It was Einstein who said that we can't solve the significant problems we face with the same level of thinking we were at when we created these problems. Said another way, we cannot reform the welfare system by using the same processes which got us into this mess.
So if we agree that we must do more than agree with Bob, where do we begin? I think we need to start by dealing with the question of who we are and what we want to accomplish. I will attempt to add my own perspective by turning to the pages of the Old Testament to look at the life example of a Biblical hero who spent his life being faithful to God while serving the government.
Then I will draw out lessons for the faith community and government based on this story, and close by offering specific policy and operational recommendations which can be pursued to facilitate government's partnership with churches and parachurch organizations.
Many of you are familiar with the life of Daniel. Like Joseph, Daniel was a faithful follower of God who was thrust into government service as a result of a King's wishes.
When Daniel was just a boy, King Nebuchadnezzar took the Israelites into captivity. Soon after, the king ordered the chief of his court officials to go to Jerusalem and select the finest of Israel's young men for his service. Nebuchadnezzar offered to teach the captives his Babylonian language and literature, and he made available daily rations of their food and wine.
Since it was Babylonian custom to offer a portion of their food to the idols, Daniel resolved not to defile himself by eating it. So he cut a deal with the officials. Said Daniel: "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see."
The official agreed... and the rest is history. The king observed Daniel and his friends and the Bible said he could find no equal to them. So they entered the king's service and -- like Joseph -- they were found to be far more effective than any of the other royal assistants.
I think this story is a great complement to Bob's great "Joseph" metaphor because it so clearly tells the HOW as well as the WHY. In essence, it offers a blueprint for government and faith-based group partnerships. The king did not hire Daniel because he needed to meet some quota, or because it was politically correct to include Jews in his administration. Rather, he eventually put Daniel in command of all of Babylon simply because Daniel performed at a higher level than anyone else. Daniel remained faithful to his God and he met the king's rigorous performance standards.
So as we enter the age of Charitable Choice and the subsequent invitation for churches and other faith-based organizations to provide welfare services in Ohio in the 21st century, let's take a deeper look at the lessons which Daniel offers to our situation.
First for the faith community. I think the story of Daniel spells out two keys to your side of the equation.
1. First, avoid mission creep. Too often in our past, there have been faith-based groups that take government contracts and then -- piece by piece -- they compromise their religious identity to qualify for more government funding and to fit some cookie cutter approach. I'm going to take a risk here and name some names, not to disparage a particular group but rather to offer a concrete example. When I was in Wisconsin, I learned that Catholic Charities had been hired by a northern Wisconsin Works agency to serve the least job-ready in the county. As a matter of fact, the Catholic group had been a JOBS provider under the old system as well. When I inquired as to how the agency was going to change under the new law since they were no longer prohibited from using religious material in their program, the Catholic agency staff replied that they didn't plan to make any changes at all. They had totally secularized the program and now didn't even see the value of an approach which incorporated their faith. In essence, they experienced mission creep. Daniel was only successful because he remained who he was in God. Faith-based groups share that identity and the power which comes from such faith.
2. Second, speak the king's language. While Daniel was true to who he was -- and he never compromised on those things which were central to him -- he was also very aware of his environment and he learned the king's ways. Remember that he learned the Babylonians' language. I think that faith-based groups need to similarly learn the language of public agencies if they are interested in forming a partnership. This means understanding that you are in a political culture and that there are certain rules to working with large bureaucracies. Again, this does not mean that you sell out on your convictions, it just means that you understand your audience and you make your pitch being sensitive to their needs.
Now let's move to some lessons for government before we address the specific strategies to make this partnership work.
1. First, government agencies need to play to the strengths of their partners, which includes the religious identity of faith-based partners. Research in every American community demonstrates that FBOs can do what others cannot. Just as Daniel interpreted the king's dreams when the royal wise men could not, so too are faith-based groups in the ghettoes and barrios healing drug addicts who have failed in dozens of clinical treatment programs. Whether you share a belief in their God or not, the challenges of the classical "hard-to-serve" welfare population are too severe to turn away this type of success. Faith-based programs are not for everyone on your caseload, but for those who desire religious services, who are we to say "No."
2. Second, new problems require new solutions. We are facing many great unknowns in welfare reform. How do we move the majority of our caseload into jobs?. Perhaps more difficult, how do we help someone attach the workforce long-term so they don't return to welfare? And how to we assist those with severe barriers to turn their lives around? Under the old system, we simply wrote checks based on eligibility criteria. Now the job is tougher, and we are being forced to intervene in the lives of many who do not want to be helped or who have very serious emotional, physical and spiritual problems. This situation makes the case for more, not fewer service providers, and for a diversity of agency partners. Faith-based partners offer a perspective not effectively offered by the current system. They are in the heart transformation business and they connect with people at a level -- and for a period of time -- unmatched by government or professional social service providers. Their approach is not for everyone, but for those who desire it, we will be well-advised to make it available.
3. Third, realize that FBOs are in it for the long haul. The struggles of someone attempting to acclimate to the workforce or kick their drug habit does not always surface between regular office hours. One of my close friends operates an employment program in New York for homeless men who are addicted to drugs. He tells of the many late night sessions with these guys talking about the challenges of working for a white boss, or the pressures of walking past the crack house or the temptation to spend their first pay check all at once. This is not routine work and it does not come with a job description. But he is committed to doing it because of his faith in God and his love for these men. Daniel proved his worth not only to King Nebuchadnezzar but to several subsequent kings as well. His value was not limited to a particular administration's agenda, and his allegiance was not only to his superiors but to a superior set of principles.
These are the type of partners our welfare agencies need if they want the toughest part of their caseload to make it into employment -- and I know many such groups are in this room today. The question becomes how to pay to each others strengths.
So how do we get from here to there?
I think we need to acknowledge that this is not a situation where we're building a program from scratch. Churches have been in the caring business for centuries, as have government agencies. What we are really dealing with is the question of how to more effectively form alliances between the two.
So the primary question -- whose responsibility is it to care for the poor? -- is easily dealt with. As we discussed during the panel earlier today, both sides have an important role to play.
We also discussed the legal ramifications of this new church-state model this morning, so I won't go back into that discussion again. Rather, I will focus on some of the strategies we can use to make the partnership effective. Starting with the proposition that we are discussing a business relationship, the first strategy must be contracts. State and local governments hold the cards in this scene. As part of the 1996 law, Washington has written a generous check to the states and has given them five years to make this new version of welfare reform work.
Now it is up to the state officials here in Columbus, Ohio and the counties to decide how to pull it off. If the government decides to run most of the show themselves, the conversations we are having today are non-starters. But if government decides to subcontract services, then we need to look at how business relationships can be formed to ensure performance.
As you know all too well, performance has not been the leading focus of our attention in past welfare delivery efforts. The AFDC world was driven by rules and processes. We cared about how our organizations were administered and whether people were better or worse off. But for some reason -- and for far too long -- we measured inputs versus outputs.
This of course needs to stop. We need to incentivize performance, not process. And this applies directly to the topic of government and faith community partnerships. I don't think many of us would disagree on the point of whether or not to partner with as many quality organizations as possible. We obviously need more hands, not less. Therefore, the state and county government agencies need to spell out success in their RFPs and invite agencies to compete on a level playing field.
And as we learn more about the challenges facing the most difficult to serve, I think that government agencies need to buy services that formerly were not needed. For example, have you considered hiring inner city firms to help promote Medicaid sign-up since it is no longer linked to AFDC? And what about hiring similar firms to recruit non-custodial parents for employment services and parenting classes. Mentoring is another good weapon in the battle of helping someone make it in the workforce. The list could go on and on, but we must think outside of the box.
And once you hire these agencies, or subcontractors, based on performance, I argue that you should give them spending flexibility to foster innovation. I think that government welfare agencies under PRWORA should be in the WHAT business, not the HOW business. Just as the federal government now gives states wide latitude in spending their block grant funds, so too should second tier devolution -- states or counties to local agencies -- offer similar flexibility.
Take the example of mentoring. If you hire a firm to provide mentoring services, I urge government agencies not to do cookie-cutter mentoring programs, prescribed by rules and regulations. Rather, I think we should allow these groups to spend resources in a variety of ways so that they can find strategies to meet their community's unique situation and each individual's needs and interests.
Very related to spending flexibility is the need for policy or practice flexibility.
One of the obvious places to start here is to look at the issue of credentialing. Bob is one of the foremost commentators on this problem. Is it more important to have a degree or to have successful outcomes? While I am not saying that staff with credentials are incapable of achieving success, I am saying that certain providers without the same credentials can achieve success as well.
Some states have addressed this topic in the area of child care. When interviewing former AFDC clients about their child care needs, many expressed an interest in using their family members. However, these families often could not take on the responsibility without compensation. So the state established a new child care provider category for family and friends. These new providers needed to meet minimum health and safety standards but they did not have to do through the excessive certification process. It wasn't about changing standards, it was about allowing customers to choose the best option for their children.
Another key area in this discussion is welfare-to-work case management. We need to allow case managers to be problem-solvers, not rules-driven eligibility specialists. This is not an easy process. In Wisconsin, where many former IM workers complained about not having any discretion, those same workers protested often during the new financial and employment planner training about being taught general strategies rather than specific processes. These workers would stop the trainer and say, "What should I do in this instance?" to which the trainer would reply, "Its up to you."
This was very frustrating and quite risky. What if the workers make mistakes, either intentional or unintentional? The key is to have a system with good checks and balances. But the alternative system which treated everyone the same -- badly -- is not good enough. Each welfare case head has a different story, and we need a system which is responsive to each one.
This is also where the community-based case management model applies, which I discussed during the panel this morning.
Ohio has been a leader in many areas related to welfare reform and workforce development. I congratulate you on your investment in these sessions with NCNE -- and I encourage you to follow-up by becoming a national leader in this new model of new government partnerships. Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I wish you well.