State Governments Move to ‘Off-Load’ Public Responsibilities to Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

State governments partnering with faith-based and community organizations to maximize the use of resources is not a new concept. In some states, public-private partnerships have been expanded across most government departments, a model GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee proposes to follow for Tennessee.

With President Trump’s intention to trim federal spending, a new question has been raised with regard to the role of faith-based and community organizations helping to augment the work of state government agencies and one that may be especially relevant for Tennessee.

According to a 2017 article in Governing Magazine, data related to major spending areas put 38% of Tennessee’s general revenue reliant on federal aid in the domains of public welfare spending (59.7% federal dollars), education (14.6% federal dollars), and 53% reliant on federal dollars for roads.

WalletHub ranked Tennessee overall as the 13th state most reliant on federal aid but whose state government funding was 8th overall most dependent on federal dollars.

If Tennessee were to receive fewer federal dollars, would the state be forced to cut certain services? Would faith-based and community organizations be financially prepared to step into the service gap?

There has been long-standing opposition to faith-based groups relying on government funding. Responding to President Bush’s push to steer government funding to faith-based organizations, the Cato Institute expressed concern over the potential effect:

As they became increasingly dependent on government money, faith-based charities could find their missions shifting, their religious character lost, the very things that made them so successful destroyed. In the end, Bush’s proposal may transform private charities from institutions that change people’s lives to mere providers of services, little more than a government program in a clerical collar.

At the federal level, the scenario postured by the Cato Institute in 2001, rings true today with regard to refugee resettlement agencies whose work was dominated by a dependence on federal grants. Not only were these organizations forced to abandon their religious identity when providing the government-funded services, but are now closing offices due to the sharply reduced federal money flowing into their bank accounts because of the sharply reduced number of refugee entrants.

Were faith-based and community organizations able to provide the healthcare needed by people without insurance and for those who are not TennCare-eligible, would Governor Haslam have pushed his Obama-styled “Insure Tennessee” plan?

The first faith-based and community initiative in Tennessee was established through the Department of Health in 2004. More recently, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Minority Health Disparities and Elimination have expanded to promote faith-based services.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee has proposed following the example of states with more expansive public-private partnerships. Lee’s plan as described on his campaign website would create an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within the governor’s office and have this office work across “every department that serves Tennesseans and enhance the reach of organizations serving people at-risk including areas such as health, education, workforce development, and human services.”

The Community & Faith-Based initiatives in Michigan and Texas each operate across their respective state government’s departments including the ones that oversee foster care and adoption services. These states have reached out to faith-based groups to help find families to foster and adopt children needing homes.

Shortly after Texas announced its faith-based outreach, the Texas Tribune’s “TribTalk” highlighted an “unintended consequence” of a potentially adverse effect on “the permanency outcomes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in the foster care system.” The position statement drafted by St. Edward’s University Asst. Professor McCormick provided studies and statistics to support his concerns:

Because of the shortage of LGBT-friendly foster families in Texas, LGBT youth are often relegated to group homes, children’s homes and other congregate care settings, a dynamic that reinforces the idea that LGBT youth aren’t worthy of a family connection.

And in a faith-based system, there is an increased likelihood of prospective foster and adoptive parents’ theological and personal convictions directly conflicting with the acceptance and affirmation LGBT youth require, leaving them at higher risk of secondary rejection and higher placement turnover.

If the primary responsibility of the foster care system is to keep children safe and protect them from future risk, then Texas must take extra measures to decrease the incidents of maltreatment, discrimination and rejection among LGBT youth in foster care.

A recent study assessing the impact of family acceptance found that LGBT youth with accepting and affirming caregivers are nearly eight times less likely to attempt suicide and six times less likely to have depressive symptoms than youths whose caregivers reject their sexual orientation or gender identity.

If Texas proceeds with a faith-based approach to improving the foster system, then it should also purposefully seek foster homes specifically for LGBT youth.

Disaster recovery has been a popular domain for faith-based group partnering with state agencies. To take advantage of this resource, Missouri’s state government established a “Faith-Based and Community Service Partnership for Disaster Recovery.”

Faith-based groups have organized themselves into a national network for disaster response called the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD), with a named representative in every state and a board representing Muslims, Christians, Lutherans, Methodists and organizations like Feed the Children. NVOAD’s 2019 national conference will be held in Nashville.

While the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency does not have a formalized faith-based and community organization initiative, its website states that when disasters strike volunteer inquiries will be directed to the TNVOAD or a local emergency management agency.

For example, ICNA Relief (Islamic Circle of North America) represented on the board of NVOAD, joined with other faith groups in responding to Nashville’s 2010 flood. Samaritan’s Purse was on the scene in response to a 2013 flood in Kingsport, and the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church partnered with other organizations to rebuild homes lost in last year’s Gatlinburg wildfire.

It’s not clear whether Bill Lee’s desire to expand public-private partnerships in Tennessee will encompass disaster relief. Nor is it known whether and to what extent expanding partnerships between the State of Tennessee and faith-based and community organizations would increase access to services especially if federal funds for social services were reduced.

But Lee’s campaign website description of his proposed Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives states that “Bill Lee’s plan would increase coordination and work with community, nonprofit and faith leaders to raise awareness of potential government funds and partnership opportunities.”

When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts he also established an office to help faith-based organizations providing social services access federal funds. Over a two year period of time, organizations helped by Romney’s office received over $60 million dollars in federal funding.

Critics of Romney’s efforts to help faith-based groups find and receive federal funds was characterized as campaign posturing and a way for Romney to “raise [his] personal religious profile” :

Romney’s announcement was immediately portrayed by some critics as an effort to reach out to Republican presidential voters, in this case evangelical Christians, who make up a key part of the Republican constituency.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State criticized Romney’s actions for the same reason they criticized Bush’s initiative for trying “to break down the church state wall.”



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11 Thoughts to “State Governments Move to ‘Off-Load’ Public Responsibilities to Faith-Based and Community Initiatives”

  1. Dave Vance

    I agree this is a very bad idea especially if it gives the Muslims a platform which it will. Diane also has the terrible idea of taking back over the Refugee Resettlement program in the mistaken belief that the state will be able to vett them better. To begin with it would undermine our current lawsuit/appeal. Our odds of winning that lawsuit are better because our state got out of the program several years ago so we have a stronger 10th Amendment argument because of that. After all of the years that this has been a problem and Diane has served at both the state and federal level she apparently doesn’t understand how this program works! The state would have to submit a request and have a plan approved by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in order to “take the program back over” as she says. We would be officially asking to take refugees again! Anybody believe we will get to pick and choose? Anybody think we won’t end up with a bunch of muslims? Then again apparently quite a few muslims worked at Aegis. Maybe she likes them! Here is the link ref taking the program back over.

    1. Terry

      This is straying off topic, but thank you many times over for that link, because DC Diane just made the case against herself Q.E.D. – to wit, her responses:

      “I have relationships in Washington that help me to be able to, when I have a problem, get to the right people in Washington.”

      Someone needs to remind her that she’s running for Governor of the sovereign state of Tennessee, not a second-class lackey, subservient to DC. Hence the moniker, DC Diane.

      “…as an executive, I will not allow sanctuary cities.”

      Any support to so-called sanctuary cities has already been outlawed by the Tennessee legislature….it would not be up to her to “allow sanctuary cities” or not – it’s up to the Executive to faithfully execute the law.

      ” I will put a plan out to talk about what I would do to ensure that we have the infrastructure needed in order to be able to move all these folks that are currently here and all the new people that are coming in around the city and make sure they have a quality of life and they’re not sitting in traffic for hours going to and coming from work.”

      Contrast that to the approach of ensuring that the rural areas and even mid-sized towns across the state have a fair opportunity to prosper. That’s not in DC Diane’s playbook, not at all. Her plan is to continue the concentration of wealth and power into the major metropolitan areas and let the rural areas and mid-sized cities eat cake, or move to Nashville if they don’t like it.

  2. Terry

    Most people seem to stop at the “faith-based” and miss entirely the “community-based.” But in both instances, what’s really being said is locally-based. I do not have any people I would call friends who would hesitate for one minute to help out someone they knew that was in genuine need. The problem with government-based relief is that it provides a cloak of anonymity and that is what the freeloaders and deadbeats of our society depend on. Bring that down to the local, community level and that cloak disappears. Government’s role is not to provide relief – it’s role is to protect the rights of its citizens, the self-same citizens who are the government. Relief, health care, housing, employment – these are not “public responsibilities” as the headline to the article states, it’s the individual’s responsibility – and most important of all, by providing benefits to those who do not have a genuine need, you deprive, or at least diminish, benefits to those who do have a genuine need. Let the community and the faith-based organizaitons within that community arbitrate who is and is not in need – get the government out of it. If for no other reason then the fact that they really do a bad job at it. Bloated, nonsensical – just like any other faceless bureaucracy.

  3. Jose Reva

    Let them freeload from people who want to enable them…I do not!

  4. lb

    No. Period. You only need to look as far as the phony FOR PROFIT “Refugee” program here in TN dominated by Catholic Charities to see this is a terrible idea. If Faith based organizations want to help, they are free to do so and welcome BUT to turn over entire areas to them. Very bad idea.

    1. 83ragtop50

      You speak of the Catholic Charities organization. What a money making scheme for them as they dump the “refugees” onto the public. This needs to stop. Period.

      1. lb

        Agree–they need a top to toe audit by the State of their phony FOR profit scam

  5. Wolf Woman

    When the Christian church goes into business with the political machine, the outcome is a politicized Christian organization. So the Church becomes a self-righteous social justice center, all about spiritual materialism lacking the Holy Spirit and the fire of faith in Jesus Christ.

    1. 83ragtop50

      Agree. Mixing government and church programs is the kiss of death.

  6. Donna Locke

    Saw a lot of fraud in this area, in Georgia. Had “religious ministers” coming from foreign countries on special visas, attaching themselves to Methodist or other churches, and glomming on to church resources to finance illegal immigration. In Marietta, Georgia, a church member walked in on illegal aliens using equipment at a Methodist church to produce fraudulent documents to sell on the street.

  7. Kevin

    Anybody who subscribes to the mantra of “smaller Government” would and should gravitate toward this concept. Just last night two people were telling me about how their churches are sending missionaries to Nicaragua and Niger. How about we send them to “tent city” under Ellington Parkway, or the south side of Chicago.

    DC Diane would NEVER propose something like this, for two reasons, 1) it fits with what Trump is proposing, and she’s a “never Trump-er”, and 2) ultimately it leads to the shrinking of Government, and she’s (based on her voting record) diametrically opposed to that concept!

    Boyd likewise would never propose it because he basically believes that anything you can do, Government can do better!

    This is one of the reasons why I will vote for Bill Lee!