The Welfare System Must Remain
Public Welfare is an important support system of the United States
government. Welfare has its benefits, but the system has pitfalls. Instead of
abolishing welfare as critics of the system suggest, reforms can be made to
correct the problems while government, either on the state or federal level, can
continue to assist the impoverished.
The term welfare is used to describe a variety of programs that provide
income support and create a safety net for poor individuals and families. Such
benefits include Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, food stamps, housing
allowances, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Aid To Families With
Dependent Children (AFDC) enables states to provide cash payments to
children that are deprived of the care or support of a parent. In terms of welfare
reform, this is the program most often discussed.
The media has created many myths regarding welfare and the reasons
the system should be done away with. Stating that the majority of new welfare
recipients are poor, single mothers, claims have been made that poor women
have more children because of the incentives of welfare benefits. It has been
proven that is no correlation between women's choice to have children and
welfare benefit levels. Furthermore, for each additional child, a mother can
expect an additional $90 of AFDC benefits, far too low to serve as any type of
incentive. In addition, those states that provide higher benefits do not
necessarily show higher birth rates among their welfare recipients. Families
receiving AFDC benefits have 1.9 children, just about the same as the national
average. (ACLU 1)
Another myth created by the media concerns the amount of money spent
and the results. It has been said that after spending billions of dollars since the
mid-1960's on anti-poverty programs, there have been little or no results. To
begin with, spending on AFDC between 1964 and 1994 was only $500 billion,
less than 1.5% of federal spending for that period. Further, there have been
results. Between 1964 and 1973, the poverty rate fell from 19% to 11%. It is
true that since 1973, poverty has increased. This is due to economic forces
such as declining real wages, rather than a failure of the system itself.
A third myth regarding welfare concerns employment. It is believed that
anyone who wants to get off welfare just has to go out and get a job. However,
workforce discrimination and lack of affordable child care make it difficult for
single mothers to be employed outside of the home. In addition, the low-wage,
no-benefit jobs available to welfare recipients do not pay nearly enough to lift a
family above the poverty line. (Extra 1-3)
Welfare recipients are very aware of the system that they are involved
with. They know that without welfare, they would be much worse off. Recipients
of welfare payments know that these payments are inadequate. They must deal
with a daily strain of benefits that, in almost every state, do not even take them
near the poverty line. People on welfare are also frustrated because the
program actually penalizes employment and savings. Any money earned above
what is minimally needed causes benefits to be lost. In addition, any savings
that the family has causes the family to be ineligible to continue receiving
welfare payments and benefits.
It is obvious that welfare has its benefits. It is just as obvious, however,
that the system has pitfalls. The welfare system must not be abolished, but
simply reformed. Welfare must remain to help people get back on their feet, but
it must be reformed so that dependence on government is avoided. Job training
and education must be integrated into a new welfare system so that when
welfare payments stop, recipients have the skills to gain full time employment to
support their families.
Any reforms that are made must be responsible reforms. It must include
enhanced job training and job creation. Reforms must also assist low-income
working parents find ways to combine work and public assistance in ways
appropriate to their circumstances. (Hoehn 6)
The welfare reform bills Congress has been considering have caused
some fear, both in the eyes of welfare recipients and advocates of the system.
However, the reforms being considered are beneficial. There really is no reason
for concern. The welfare bills do not mean that the Federal Government is
giving up the anti-poverty fight. Washington will still continue to spend over $20
billion per year on aid to the poor. The difference, however, will be that the
money is going to be distributed to the states. The Federal Government is
saying that the current system is not working, but they do not know how to fix it.
By distributing the welfare money to the states, the Federal government is
allowing each state to experiment with different welfare plans to see which one
will work the best. In addition, almost $55 billion will be saved over six years.
Cuts and reductions will be made mainly in food stamp reductions and aid to
legal immigrants, not to welfare or child-care grants. These benefits will be
given an additional $3 billion over the same six year period. According to
Conservatives, once welfare becomes something other than handouts, many
people will leave the welfare rolls for employment. The money being saved can
be used to pay for these jobs. (Kaus A27)
The specific reforms are numerous. Some of the more important reforms
include child-support enforcement, higher benefits, time limits for welfare
payments, and workfare. Child support enforcement is supported by both
Liberals and Conservatives, as they both profess to have the child's well-being
at heart. This enforcement would reduce the welfare payments made by the
government because the parents would be responsible for supporting their
children. Higher benefits refer to social-insurance programs such as Social
Security and disability. Problems exist in reforming this part of the system, but
changes are necessary to protect everyone's well-being. Workfare is the most
popular reform option, as it is the most effective at the lowest cost. It would
make employment mandatory, but would also allow for job training and
education. Workfare would also allow families to feel some sort of
self-sufficiency. (Schiller 2-4)
The main point of the reform is for welfare recipients to take personal
responsibility. This means that there should be a connection between reward
and effort. People must be held responsible for their actions: economic and
moral failures are not society's fault. As Speaker of the House Gingrich said,
"We are re-establishing work as an American tradition."
(US News & World Report 12)
The welfare system is an important aspect of American society. It assists
the impoverished individuals and families of our nation. It helps support the
unemployed during their time of need. The welfare system must remain to help
people get back on their feet, as it was designed. However, it must be reformed
so that dependence on government aid is avoided.
American Civil Liberties Union: The Civil Liberties Issues of Welfare Reform.
New York: The American Civil Liberties Union, 1995.
"Five Media Myths About Welfare." Extra 1-3.
Hoehn, Richard. Blueprint for Social Justice: Let's Get Real About Welfare.
New Orleans: Twornery Center for Peace Through Justice, 1995.
Kaus, Mickey. "The Revival of Liberalism." New York Times. 9 August 1996: A27
"Say You Want A Revolution." US News and World Report. 9 Oct 1995: 11-14
Schiller, Bradley, "Why Welfare is Still So Hard To Reform." Challenge
November-December 1995: 16-19
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