Government Cutbacks Leave Faith-Based Services Hurting
"It's only going to continue to get worse," warned Larry Snyder, chief executive of Catholic Charities USA, one of the country's largest nonprofit organizations, which gets about 65 percent of its revenue from government contracts. "Our folks out in the field are feeling a little overwhelmed because they can't see the end, and all they see are more and more people coming and fewer resources coming their way. And yet we don't have the luxury to say, 'You know what? We're going to close our doors for a while.' "
Faith-based charities' services run the gamut of social programs: They own hospitals and nursing homes, run substance-abuse and foster-care programs, operate homeless shelters and mental health clinics, build affordable housing and distribute food to the needy.
Researchers say it is impossible to calculate what percentage of total social service assistance comes from faith-based organizations, although they agree it is large. One San Jose State University study estimates the value of the social services provided by faith-based charities and other religious organizations across the country at $50 billion a year.
In the Washington area, at least one-third of faith-based charities and congregations get government money, according to a survey by Scott W. Allard, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Allard said that estimate is probably low because it misses many smaller congregations and social service organizations that also receive contracts.
But across the country, caring for the poor is growing more and more difficult, faith organization leaders said. The passage of the economic stimulus package is expected to do little to reverse the trend. In Virginia, for example, even with the funds expected from the stimulus package, the budget shortfall is anticipated to be at least $2.7 billion, with cuts for faith-based services all but certain.