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Assessing the “Halo Effect” in Flushing

HINGE: the faith-based organizations contribute on behalf of each Flushing area taxpayer about $513 worth of social services to the poor and needy.

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Questionnaires returned from church & ministries (identifying info blurred out). Source: A Journey through NYC religions

“Where is the money?” I remember this challenge that City Council member Peter Koo  gave some federal government officials who are considering making some sites in Flushing part of the National Park System. Koo, a very practical member of the city council, keeps his eye on the budget. And so should we. We can answer Koo’s question by getting as accurate counts of the religious congregations and ministries and their contributions to Flushing community welfare.

We have done this by traveling down every road and alleyway in Community District 7 in order to count the number of religious sites. We have assembled every tax list and directory available, but some register from the pastor, priest, or imam’s home office which might not be in Flushing area. Others are branches of religious congregations that lie outside the boundaries of the community district. Some meet informally, and others meet inside the building of another congregation. We can find these by traveling around every day of the week, particularly on weekends. We undoubtedly missed some.

Still, we found and visited 400 sites that we are using to determine the “Halo Effect.” We are not counting religious bookstores, businesses, etc. We don’t count all the kosher or hallal food stores, though they surely have a religious dimension.

We sent reporters to visit and conduct interviews. If no one was there, we left a questionnaire and later called by phone. We asked each religious congregation or ministry to check off a list of social services that they provided and to add any that we didn’t list. Then, we compared the list to Cnaan’s list to see if he is finding the same thing. The lists are quite similar.

Just last week, a similar study of Catholic social services to immigrants was published last week by the Center for Migration Studies in New York City. It is based on a national sample of Catholic institutions. The study found a tremendous list of social services (besides worship and religious teaching) that the Catholic churches and ministries do.  They have made over two dozen major social service commitments, ranging from covering legal fees for new immigrants to transportation, counseling of victims of violence, senior services, free or reduced meals, sick visitation, childcare, parenting help, leadership training, ESL, cultural programs, and much more.

Cnaan’s studies provide a benchmark of how much services these are worth per congregation. He surveyed many cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, New Orleans, and elsewhere. In an ongoing study in Toronto that is advised by Cnaan, the researchers are collecting data on 43 aspects of congregational community service provision. Adjusting his survey figures for the New York City standard of living and by the Consumer Price Index put out by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we estimate that each congregation in Flushing today provides $268,202 worth of social welfare benefits to the city every year. With 410 congregations and ministries in Flushing, their total faith-based contribution to social services last year was $109,000,000.

An additional contribution is made by the big citywide religious welfare agencies. We have estimated the percent of the budgets of the United Jewish Appeal, the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies that are given over to activities in Flushing. These are the three largest centralized faith-based charities in New York City.

Our estimate of Flushing expenditures in 2015 by these agencies is $14,026,067. We have not included the budgets of the religious primary and secondary schools in Flushing. This amounts to leaving out several tens of millions of dollars.

 

So, a reasonable, though not definitive, estimate of the total faith-based contribution to social services in Flushing is $123,988,887.

 

Where is the money? The tax-payer advantage of faith-based social services

The answer to Council member Koo's questions is that the faith-based contributions to social services reduces the taxes of the Flushing taxpayers. The faith-based organizations contribute on behalf of each taxpayer about $513 worth of social services to the poor and needy. Does this mean a one-for-one faith-based discount for each taxpayer? One can’t say for sure without further economic analysis. However, the United States was uniquely set up to take advantage of the massive volunteer efforts of citizens in faith enterprises. Although the needs of the downtrodden and hurting are so big that we certainly need government funding, the faith-based contributions help keep our taxes lower than that found in countries without such a big volunteer contribution.

The faith-based institutions in Flushing are able to motivate thousands of volunteers to help the community’s neediest citizens. Faith-based charities, schools, and social services are more user friendly, efficient, and effective in generating social solidarity than many of the bureaucratic alternatives. For the do-gooders of Flushing, caring for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, and the hurting is not just a job and a case file but a calling and a soul.

No other organizations in the community provides as many volunteers and charity donations. The faith-based organizations also donate their paid staff, pace, and savvy knowledge of the needy. Their donation of space alone is irreplaceable in today’s red-hot Flushing market. In fact, their contribution of neighborliness, voice, and far-flung immigrant social networks for the community when Flushing was in its worst days is one reason that we have the Flushing boom today.

 

Councilman Peter Coo, left bench  next to screen, asks representative of U.S. National Park Service if money will be provided to Flushing for a national park site. The hearing room was provided by the Friends Meeting House. Originally built in 1694, it is the oldest place of worship in the city still operating. In March, the meeting house hosted local urban farmers to prepare for the new growing season. Photo: A Journey through NYC religions

Next: The rest of the faith based story in the social welfare of Flushing

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