Bypassing Bureaucracy

Imagine you have $1,000 to help the poor, and two options for spending it. Choice number one is to send the money to the federal government, which is what we do when we pay our taxes. The feds would skim as much as 70 cents off every dollar they receive to fund their own bureaucracy--then use the leftovers to fund welfare programs that many believe have led to massive dependency and family breakdown. Your second option is to give that $1,000 to a ministry near your home--one that has a great track record helping the poor achieve self-sufficiency. Which option would you choose? Of course, citizens don't really have that option--at least, not yet. But taxpayers may soon be able to send their tax dollars directly to programs that really do help the poor. Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana and former education secretary Bill Bennett are promoting a legislative initiative called the Project for American Renewal. The centerpiece of the plan is a charity tax credit, and it works like this: Each year taxpayers would be given a choice. They could take $500 of what they owe in taxes--or $1,000 per couple--and give it directly to a private or religious charity in their own community. If taxpayers don't pick a charity, the money would go by default to the federal government. Sen. Coats estimates that this would shift about eight percent of federal welfare spending--$20 billion dollars a year--from the federal government to private charities. What would this accomplish? First, it would provide help to neighborhood healers like Pastor Roy Nabors of Milwaukee. Nabors founded a Christian ministry called Community Enterprise of Greater Milwaukee, which helps inner city men and women start their own businesses. Since 1987, this organization has helped launch 21 successful businesses and created 180 jobs--jobs that permanently lifted people off the welfare rolls. How does Nabors explain his success story? "Inescapably," he says, "the motivation which drives personal productivity is spiritual in nature." It's a reality that Nabor's organization addresses. But the impact of a charity tax credit on American society could reach much deeper. If Americans are allowed to choose where their welfare dollars will go, they'll check out charities' reputations to find out which local programs are truly helping people. You see, the trouble with government programs is not just their failure to eradicate poverty: They've also crowded out faith-based charities that do succeed. High taxes for social programs mean we have less money to give to private charities. Worse, government programs teach us that if we pay our taxes, we've done enough to help the poor. That's why the Charity Tax Credit may be one of the most important legislative initiatives in decades. It will bypass bureaucracy to get resources to charities that truly help the poor. And it will challenge all Americans to think differently about the true nature of compassion. When Americans are asked to choose between federal welfare programs and local charities, they'll begin to see that the war on poverty is being waged most successfully not with a government check, but with the weapons of Christ: hard-headed compassion merged with commitment and God's love. And that in turn could be a powerful testament to the transforming power of God.    


Chuck Colson


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