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Social welfare policies are an integral part of any political system. Many countries across the world have formulated social welfare policies to cope with the numerous social issues affecting society. There are many underprivileged people in society who include the unemployed, poor and disabled, and these require assistance from the state in order to achieve their potential. Social welfare in the US includes healthcare, empowerment, housing and other programs geared towards assisting the poor, unemployed and marginalized in society. Such programs include Medicaid, AFDC (Aid for families with dependent children), WIC (women, infants and children) programs, veteran programs and others. The US social welfare policy has been in existence for over two centuries and it traces its roots to British Poor Laws which were used by British colonies (Brown et. al. 12-17). These laws differentiated between people who were unable to work due to unemployment and those unable to do so due to physical health or age. The previous group was assisted with employment in workhouses while the latter was granted cash or other forms of assistance by the government.
It is important to understand the US social welfare system in order to assess whether the objectives it was formed to attain are in fact being accomplished. This will enable us to make recommendations on whether the policy should be improved, remain the same or scrapped altogether. This paper will evaluate the US welfare policy in detail. It will assess its history and reasons why it was developed. The policy description and analysis will assist in evaluating the welfare policy. Afterwards an assessment will be made on whether the policy is effective in meeting the needs of the American society. The discussed issues will be summarized at the end of the paper.
It has been stated that the US social welfare policy has been in existence for over two centuries and it traces its roots to British Poor Laws which were used by British colonies. The government realized that there were the poor and marginalized in society and that some of them were unable to meet their basic needs due to lack of employment. The huge number of unemployed people was a burden to society and contributed highly to acts of deviance which were experienced then. There was also the need to take care of war veterans who had contributed to the stability of the US through sacrificing themselves to defend their country. Congress approved programs aimed at supporting war veterans as early as 1862. Before government intervention, there was also some form of welfare which was practiced by villages. For instance, when families required assistance and friends and neighbors were unable to provide sufficient help, villages provided such help through workhouses or almshouses and poor relief systems. There was also Mothersâ€™ pension law which helped single mothers bring up children comfortably as well as cash allowance for the poor. In some states, aid for the blind was provided as early as the 1920s.
However, these were mainly laws formulated to cater for specific objectives and were not necessarily a government policy as is in the modern world. The welfare policy was developed to cater for needs of families which suffered the Great Depression. The Great depression which occurred in 1929 and lasted for almost two decades before global economies recovered. It caused collapse of many economies and stock markets, massive unemployment, deflation of products and a general decrease in disposable incomes of most households. After the Great Depression, the government decided to develop a welfare policy which targeted families and households among other deserving groups. In 1935 the Social Security Act which defined policy programs was passed under President Roosevelt. Various social welfare policy programs including Aid to Dependent Children and unemployment compensation were developed as a result. In addition, government agencies such as Department of Labor, Department of Housing, Department of Education and department of Agriculture were also formed to oversee the implementation of the welfare policy (Taylor 68-73). In subsequent years, various other policy programs were developed to meet modern needs. For instance, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed in 1996 under President Clinton aimed at assisting the poor and empowering them to obtain employment as opposed to dependence on aid. The problems which necessitated development of the welfare policy will be discussed in the following section of the paper.
Problem description necessitating policy
There were several problems which necessitated the development of the social welfare policy. It is important to understand that different generations faced various problems throughout history although most were similar. This section of the paper will analyze the reasons necessitating development of the social welfare policy at different points in time depending on problems prevailing at the time. Initially, it has been discussed that social welfare was developed due to four major reasons. The first was to address the problem of poverty and unemployment. It was realized that friends and neighbors were sometimes unable to assist the poor in society who were beginning to be a burden to society. Many unemployed people were poor and had begun participating in social vices since they were unable to afford money for basic needs. There were no clear statistics on poverty levels but it was believed that over 10% of the total population lived in poverty. The second reason which necessitated development of the welfare policy was the old and especially the war veterans who had sacrificed themselves for the country. Such categories of people were unable to work effectively due to age or injury and they began receiving support from the state.
However, the modern welfare policy system began due to the effects of the Great Depression. It has been discussed that the Great depression which occurred in 1929 and lasted for almost two decades caused collapse of many economies and stock markets, massive unemployment, deflation of products and a general decrease in disposable incomes of most households. The Great depression was a massive problem which caused a fall of crop prices by over 50%, collapse in construction industry, over 50% decline in tax revenues and personal incomes, collapse in logging and mining industries and an over 25% increase in overall US unemployment rate amongst other problems (Modigliani 41-43). These were huge financial problems which threatened the survival of many families and businesses and the government developed the welfare policy aimed at supporting the affected families and households among other deserving groups. This facilitated the 1935 passage of the Social Security Act which defined policy programs under President Roosevelt. Other welfare policies have been passed under President Clinton and these aimed at assisting the poor meet modern challenges and empowering them to obtain employment as opposed to dependence on aid.
There are two major policies which will be discussed as far as policy description of the US social welfare system is involved. The first is the 1935 the Social Security Act passed to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed to cater for the poor and marginalized in society.
The 1935 the Social Security Act
This Act was passed under President Roosevelt and it formed the basis of developing the welfare system as is used today. The Act advocated for development of programs which limited the threats to American society including poverty, old age, burdens of widows and orphans as well as unemployment. These problems were made worse by the Great Depression which occurred during this period in history. The Act provided various benefits to unemployed people and retirees, with lump-sum payments being made after their death. The payments which were made to retirees were funded by taxes on the payrolls of current workers, with half the payments being funded by employers. The old, families with depended children and unemployed were financed by funds in various states which were advanced by the central government.
Many minorities and women were locked out from these programs. This was due to the fact that the Act did not cover employees in domestic service, agricultural labor, government employees, nurses, teachers and social workers. This locked out minorities and women who dominated these sectors. The Act also discriminated against women who received insurance programs based on children or husbands. Minorities such as blacks received lower funds for assistance in some states due to the perception that blacks needed less money for maintenance. During this period, approximately $35 million was paid out in welfare programs by the central government. It is important to note that these welfare programs were long term in nature and did not have strict time limits where people could rely on welfare.
1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act
It has been discussed that this Act was passed under President Clinton. It had a significant impact on the goals and methods of assistance on the poor in society. The bill was passed with the belief that welfare programs were encouraging immigrants to relocate to the US where they became social burdens to society (Frum 325-327). It aimed at providing short term assistance to families as opposed to long term assistance as was being previously practiced. It also led to the change of long term welfare programs to short term ones. For instance, the 1935 Aid to Families and Dependent Children program was replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. In addition to shortening the length of welfare programs, this Act also increased eligibility standards required by those claiming benefits. These included reduction in immigrant welfare assistance, stricter conditions for eligibility for food stamps and recipient work requirements (David 33-37). The objectives of the program were requiring welfare recipients to obtain employment after 2 years, ending welfare as an entitlement form, encouraging two parent families, limiting welfare support from federal funds to 5 years and enhancing child support enforcement. Welfare support came from both the federal and state government, with $650 billion being payable in welfare programs in 2009.
It is important to analyze the welfare policy which has been discussed in the paper in order to evaluate its legal and ethical implications. The major goals of the modern welfare system are to prevent dependence on welfare while at the same time assisting the old, unemployed, poor and single families amongst other target groups. The aim of the previous welfare system was to assist families, the old and unemployed mitigate the effects of the Great Depression. The intention of the 1935 the Social Security Act was to provide assistance to these marginalized groups. This was a noble intention since the great depression threatened the survival of many families and businesses. However, there were defects in the programs since they discriminated against minority groups and women. They were also long term support programs which indirectly encouraged reliance on aid by the needy. Since the needy were assured of financial support, some became comfortable and did not see the need to look for employment since the government was supporting them.
However, these weaknesses were later discovered and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act was passed. This Act corrected the weaknesses in the earlier legislation since it supported the previously discriminated groups including women and minorities. It also limited the timeline for welfare support and made welfare eligibility more difficult to discourage reliance on welfare both immigrants and native US citizens. This is an important step since it encourages people to empower themselves as opposed to relying on government support. The welfare policy enables the unemployed and poor to seek employment. This improves their relations with the rest of society since they are not seen as burdens that rely on support from public taxes as was previously the case. It also enables the recipients to improve the quality of life since it empowers them to seek financial stability and empowerment. Governments across the world should embrace welfare policies which help the needy but at the same time discourage them from relying on aid in the long run.
Summary and conclusion
The US welfare system has been discussed in detail. The system traces its roots to the 18th Century when villages assisted the needy and old in society. However, the modern form of welfare which is practiced today was developed from the 1935 the Social Security Act which was passed to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression. The Great depression caused the collapse of many businesses and loss of jobs by households due to massive unemployment. The Act aimed at providing long term support for the poor, needy, unemployed and the old in society. However, it faced two main weaknesses which were discrimination against minority groups and women, and encouraging reliance eon aid by beneficiaries. In order to solve these weaknesses, the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act was passed. The Act supported the previously discriminated groups including women and minorities and limited the timeline for welfare support and made welfare eligibility more difficult to discourage reliance on welfare both immigrants and native US citizens. This encouraged recipients of welfare to look for employment opportunities and empowered them in the long run. It also improved their relations with the rest of society since they are not seen as burdens that rely on support from public taxes as was previously the case.
It is important for governments to develop social welfare policies which are similar to those applied in the US. These will assist the marginalized and empower them to seek financial empowerment through obtaining meaningful employment. Such programs should not encourage recipients of welfare to depend on it in the long run. They should have feasible timelines when recipients of welfare should cease dependence on such programs. Only recipients who are unable to gain employment due to unique circumstances such as age or disability should receive long term welfare assistance. The programs should also have strict eligibility requirements to prevent abuse by able-bodied people capable of gaining employment. This will improve the social welfare of society in general.
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