Social Welfare is defined as being programs that are run by government to promote the well being of its citizens. Throughout the history of the United States Social Welfare programs have been subject to many changes, due to the changing philosophies of Us Citizens.
During Colonial times Social Welfare needs were met primarily through mutual aid. The majority of people lived in farming communities. People in these communities lived in extended families. People generally worked together to support each other. If a person had a problem their families and communities reached out to help. Only rarely were there people who did not get their needs met by their families. In that event, churches or private organizations usually stepped into help these people. (Morales, Sheafor, 2000)
The 1800s and early 1900s brought about major changes to families and to the economy. People began to move away from farms and into cities where there were jobs. People began to rely solely on themselves rather than their extended families for support. As industrialization began machines began to take over work that was previously done by people. People found it increasingly hard to find work that could sustain their needs. People who were from vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, had a difficult time getting their needs met. People began to have a real need for social welfare programs that were beyond what families and communities could provide. (Morales, Sheafor, 2000)
As Colonial America grew more complex, the localized systems of relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state funding and the creation of poor
houses to contain the problem. (Tanenhaus, 2000) Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to discourage dependence. Those people who received relief could lose their personal property, their right to vote, their right to move, and in some cases were even required to were a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status. (SSA History Page).
The 1930s brought about economic disaster for the United States. Unemployment levels soared to 25%. (SSA) Suddenly there were all types of people who were unable to meet their own needs. People could no longer justify economic failure as moral defects. Economic disaster became so widespread during the Great Depression that people had no choice but to look to the US Government to help meet their needs. In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed several social programs that were designed to assist those in need.
The cornerstone of these social welfare programs was the Social Security Act of 1935. This was the first time that the United States Government used federal and public funds to meet the welfare needs of the people. This insured that the elderly and the disabled could maintain at least a minimum standard of living. Social Security is post retirement insurance. It is financed through payroll taxes on wages. Benefits are to be paid directly from the federal government to individuals who are over the age of 62, disabled persons, or to children of deceased or disabled parents. (SSA)
Another program that was established during this time was Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). AFDC was a federally mandated program that guaranteed
cash assistance to families with needy children. Needy children were defined as having been “deprived of parental support or care because their father or mother is absent form the home continuously, is incapacitated, is deceased, or is unemployed. (Page, Larner, Vol 7 pg. 21) Both Social Security and AFDC were both entitlement programs. They provide benefits as a matter of right to those who meet the criteria established by law.
During the 1960s there was a great expansion in social programs. In 1964, the Food Stamp Act expanded the role of the federal government in giving food coupons to needy families. In 1965 President Johnson proposed a set of programs called the “Great Society” which were intended to ease economic hardships and eradicate racial inequality. The Great Society incorporated another set of programs called “The War on Poverty.”
One of the programs under the “Great Society” was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This provided federal assistance to low income school districts to help improve the quality of educational programs and make the poor more competitive for jobs and, therefore, reduce the economic disadvantages of the poor. (National Records Archives)
Head Start was another Great Society program. This is a preschool program which is designed to prepare impoverished 3 and 4 year olds for elementary school. This program teaches children basic academic, social skills, health, and nutritional education. This program also provides immunization and medical and dental screening.
Medicaid and Medicare were created in 1965 to insure health care to the most vulnerable populations. Medicare is health benefits for the elderly. Medicare is linked to
Social Security and is paid for through payroll taxes. Medicaid is a federal program that provides health benefits to low-income, blind, or disabled people. This program is administered by the states and is partially funded by the federal government.
The Great Society had a major impact on society. The portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 to 12.6, the most dramatic decline over such a period in this century. (Califano, 1999) The impact of the Great Societys health programs has been stunning. In 1963, most elderly Americans and poor people had no access to health care. Since 1966 more than 279,000 people have been given access to health care through Medicaid or Medicare. (Califano, 1999)
In the 1970s the huge expansion of social programs began to fade. The economy began to deteriorate and political conservatism began to increase. People became skeptical of human service programs. Throughout the 1980s there were several attempts made by conservatives to attempt to dismantle human service programs. Although the attempts for the most part failed during the 1980s, their attempts caused public opinion of Human service programs to plummet, and led the way to sweeping changes in these programs in the 1990s.
In 1996 President Clinton, working with a republican congress, abolished the AFDC program and replaced it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Social Welfare was no longer considered an entitlement. People are now only allowed to collect benefits for a maximum of 5 years even if their situation worsens. The guidelines for collecting TANF also changed. Legal immigrants are no longer allowed to receive
benefits. The definition of disabilities also changed. (Morales, Sheafor, 2000) This forced many people who had previously been eligible for aid, off of the welfare roles.
Welfare recipients are now expected to get a job within the first two years of receiving assistance. It is unclear what will happen when people are forced off of public assistance. In 1998 there was a 3% decline in the poverty level, yet a 35% decline in the number of people receiving public assistance. (Morales, Sheafor, 2000). It is clear that ending AFDC did not solve the problem of poverty in the United States.
1. Social Work A Profession of Many Faces
Armando Morales and Bradford Sheafor
Copy write 2000
2. Welfare, History, and the Framing of Twenty-First Century Social Policy
David s. Tanenhaus
Printed in the Journal of Social Service Review
Volume 74 number 3 September 2000
3. Social Security Administration
4. Introduction to the AFDC Program
Stephen Page and Mary Larner
Printed in The Journal of The Future of Children
Volume 7 No. 1 Spring 1997
5. What Was Really Great About The Great Society
Joseph A. Califano
Printed in The Washington Monthly