Fighting Poverty with Faith: Reflections on Ten Years of Charitable Choice

44 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2007

See all articles by Michele E. Gilman

Michele E. Gilman

University of Baltimore - School of Law; Data & Society


Since 1996, the federal government has undertaken major initiatives to fund religious organizations to deliver social services. These programs, called charitable choice, continue to expand and now account for over $2 billion in social welfare spending. However, charitable choice blurs the lines between church and state and is thus highly controversial. This article reflects on ten years of experience with charitable choice and assesses the impact and effectiveness of these programs. There is little empirical evidence that faith-based social services are superior to secular programs. Moreover, religious grantees, and congregations in particular, are often unable to manage large federal grants and to maintain the constitutional balance required by charitable choice. Nevertheless, religious organizations have reserves of social capital that can be effectively channeled in the fight on poverty. Thus, this article suggests ways in which government can partner productively with congregations while avoiding the pitfalls inherent in current charitable choice programs. While congregations are ill-suited for delivering welfare counseling services that are transformative in nature, they are ideally suited to deliver discrete, sustenance-based services as well as to serve as links between the needy and other community groups and governmental providers.

Keywords: charitable choice, faith based, social services, welfare

JEL Classification: H53, I38

Suggested Citation

Gilman, Michele E., Fighting Poverty with Faith: Reflections on Ten Years of Charitable Choice. Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2007 , Available at SSRN:

Michele E. Gilman (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

Data & Society ( email )

36 West 20th Street
11th Floor
New York,, NY 10011
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics