It is a tragic reality of life in the United States that, despite unprecedented economic growth and low unemployment, there remains what appears to be a “permanent underclass.” This reality persists despite billions of dollars and significant efforts spent on anti-poverty programs. Innovative measures and approaches are needed to address complex social problems that mire millions of our fellow Americans in poverty in a land of plenty.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) supports in principle the vision of economic and cultural renewal through private organizations, and supports legislative initiatives targeted at community renewal, economic empowerment, and educational opportunities for low-income families. As a means of encouraging economic development and promoting effective private compassion, NAE urges careful consideration of the following three legislative initiatives.

1. Educational Opportunities Act of 1999

This proposal would empower low-income parents living in poverty-stricken areas to send their children to the school of their choice. The private and religious schools that accept scholarship students would be protected from interference by the Federal government.

2. The Charity Empowerment Act of 1999

This proposal would provide a tax credit of up to $250 ($500 for married couples) for contributions to 501 (c) (3) charitable organizations whose primary purpose is the prevention or alleviation of poverty. It may also include an expansion of the Charitable Choice provision of the welfare reform law. Charitable Choice – Senator Ashcroft’s legislation which was endorsed by NAE – has enabled religious organizations, as well as secular organizations to help the poverty stricken leave welfare by providing needed services with federal dollars.

3. The American Community Renewal Act of 1999

This innovative proposal would provide tax, housing opportunities, and other benefits to “Renewal Communities” in order to spur economic development in poverty-stricken areas. It would also amend current Federal law to permit faith-based substance abuse treatment centers (all centers, not just those in Renewal Communities) to serve the persons receiving federal assistance and to receive Federal assistance.

Finally, the NAE urges its member congregations to evaluate continually the needs of the poor in their own communities and to establish appropriate faith-based, transformational ministries furthering education, welfare-to-work programs, refugee care, substance abuse treatment, childcare, and related issues.