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Autumn 1997
City Journal Autumn 1997.
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Set Charity Free
Dan Coats, Spencer Abraham
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Congress's recent welfare reform is a big step forward. For many, ending dependency will take the efforts of private charities, too. Accordingly, we need to foster those community organizations that help individuals obtain not just the goods they need to survive but the habits of self-help and responsibility that they also need to live productive and meaningful lives.

There is no shortage of people and projects working to make this happen. In San Antonio, Pastor Freddie Garcia runs Victory Fellowship, a faith-based drug rehabilitation program that offers addicts not only a chance to recover but a safe haven to receive job training and learn how to provide for themselves. While government programs generally have success rates in the single digits, Garcia's success rate is over 80 percent. In South Bend, Indiana, Lou Nani and the Center for the Homeless provide daily support for needy people, rescuing thousands from homelessness, unemployment, and addiction.

We must make it easier for these voluntary organizations to do their work. These are the places where people learn to be law-abiding good workers, and yet in too many cases, legal and regulatory barriers make it nearly impossible for them to raise money, find volunteers, and operate their programs. For instance, licensing laws and the potential for lawsuits prevented the Michigan Salvation Army from starting an after-school program for "latchkey" children.

The federal government needs to help clear away this regulatory morass so as not to shut out the crucial face-to-face local organizations we are trying to encourage. As part of last year's health insurance reform bill, Congress passed the Coats Medical Volunteer Act, which provides federal malpractice insurance to doctors and nurses providing free health care to the poor. And this year's Volunteer Protection Act will protect volunteers from liability unless they cause harm through recklessness, gross negligence, or willful or criminal misconduct. We need to do more out ahead, such as passing the proposed Charity Tax Credit, which would allow every taxpaying family to receive a tax credit for donations to private charities fighting poverty in their communities. Most taxpayers would rather support Big Brothers/Big Sisters in their own community than feed Big Bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.

We need to clear the way for these nongovernmental solutions to human problems, solutions that build trust within communities. Government should not seek to create such organizations or run them directly, but it can and should support their efforts. Decreased regulation, lower taxes, greater protection from frivolous lawsuits—all these are ways to allow charities to do greater good for individuals and their communities.

 

 


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