Welfare Reform Paper Essay, Research Paper
Welfare, it is on just about everyones’ mind, whether it is Medicare or the A.F.D.C. Some believe there is too much and others think there is too little. As the years go by, the need for welfare reform increases. President Clinton had pledged in his 1992 campaign to “end welfare as we know it”. Only time will tell by what extremes welfare will change. As technology continues to increase and jobs continue to go overseas, the United States must decide what direction the welfare system should take. As they exist today, welfare systems are an evolution of the thoughts laid out in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before the Industrial Revolution, the responsibility of helping the poor was mainly given to the churches or local communities. As machines took the place of workers, governments were looked upon to help the unemployed. In 1883, Otto Von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, setup the first form of Modern Welfare when he enacted a sickness and maternity law. He followed up this law with a work injury law and an old-age assistance law in 1884 and 1889 respectively. Today European countries such as Germany, Norway, and Sweden have highly sophisticated Welfare systems (Bender, 13). Welfare did not reach the United States, however, until shortly after the Great Depression with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” The New Deal brought on new economic and social welfare legislation. This is the first time that the United States Government used federal and public funds to finance the welfare needs of the people. Today, the most expensive welfare program is Aid to Families with Dependent Children (A.F.D.C.). The A.F.D.C. was created after the passing of the Social Security Act of 1935. Throughout the last 60 years, the welfare system has faced many changes, including the 1988 Family Support Act, which requires most welfare recipients to enter a job-training program (Lacayo, 3). The other federally funded welfare programs include Medicaid, Food Stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each of these programs contribute to the high cost paid by the federal government to keep the welfare state running. Medicaid, for example, provides health care to low income families with dependent children, the disabled and the poor elderly. In 1994 alone, 34 million people received some 140 billion dollars in Medicaid benefits. Food stamps that are used by low income families, buys food items and work just like money. In 1994, 27 million people used food stamps costing the federal government 24 billion dollars. An example of how food stamps are distributed is given by the Congressional Digest, “A four-person household with countable income below the federal poverty guidelines and specified assets of less than $20,000 qualifies for up to about $380 worth of food stamps monthly.” Finally the Supplemental Security Income provides benefits to the elderly (over 65 years of age), blind, and the permanently disabled. The service pays $446 per month to each individual as long as their income are below pre-set levels by the government. Since 1974 when the program was started, the cost of running the program has grown from $4 billion to $25 billion, only 20 years later (Robinson, 166-168). The definition of the Welfare State is very important in fully understanding the problems and issues of the Welfare debate. Arthur J. Schlesinger, Jr. a member of the Kennedy administration and historian had this to say about the Welfare State: Briefly, it is a system wherein government agrees to underwrite certain levels of employment, income, education, medical aid, social security, and housing for all its citizens. The government does not try to do all these things itself; it seeks where possible to supplement the initiatives of private society. But it does accept the ultimate responsibility of guaranteeing “floors” in certain crucial areas, below which it conceives tolerable living to be impossible. And it will intervene when private society demonstrates its incapacity to maintain these minimum standards.(Bender, 15) The Welfare State has received much debate in the United States. Opinions about it vary greatly. Those who are for welfare, stress the importance of having a minimum income for those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not get into the work force. There is an obligation for the government to help its citizens in times of need, especially in a country that has so much. Poverty also has an adverse effect on the society, as a whole, in terms of more crime. Welfare helps the people who would otherwise be desperately needy and those who might be forced to steal. As technology increases in our society, we must protect the large numbers of citizens depending on economic conditions and large companies such as factory workers and concessionaires. Welfare makes consumers out of the poverty stricken and thus helps the economy and secure more jobs for others. Welfare plays a great importance in this economic food-cycle, if you will (Long, 46). Proponents for welfare also point out that the United States is far behind most European countries when it comes to welfare systems. For a country such as the United
States, which is so much more advanced in the way of technology and trade than Europeans nations, it is atrocious that we are so far behind in terms of helping our own people through welfare. Sweden, for example, not only has government paid education and medical care, but the Swedish government also gives an amount of money quarterly, called “general children’s allowances,” to dependent children of low-income families. By the time Swedish citizens are of retiring age, the state gives them a pension that is worth close to 65% of their actual salary while working. Proponents of welfare point to this system as a goal the United States should aim for.(Bender, 98-100) Is this the kind of system that the United States needs? Do we need a government that gives charity to its citizens? I think it is dangerous to spend so much on social welfare. There is great opposition to having an extensive welfare system. One of the first arguments against welfare is also the most obvious, taxes. Everyone would like to have a good welfare system, but when it comes to paying the taxes, the support for it drops. The Sweden tax rate, which averages 48% of every working citizens’ income, would be a hard sell in the United States. In short, to have an extensive welfare system, it would raise taxes to levels that many would not feel comfortable with. Another problem with welfare is that it brings with it more bureaucracy with it, the money that should be used to help people gets used on running the actual program. The money gets lost in the bureaucracy and as the welfare system gets larger it is increasingly tougher to reform or remove. With all this bureaucracy, it is probable that the needy would be better helped by churches and charities that are closer to the problems of the needy. Finally, I don’t think welfare should be widely used in the United States. The United States was made powerful and rich from its hard work. The reason for the United States’ success relies on the use of the capitalistic theories in government works. By running the welfare system, the government will not be rewarding the hard work and initiative that made this country what it is today. I think that having a minimum income level is dangerous because it allows people to have a “safety net”. Jobs tend to be less important with the knowledge that you will be able to get along without it, especially when the benefits on welfare are better than having a minimum wage job. I agree, however, that the needy should get help in the way of job training and government should try to create more jobs in the country. The Family Support Act of 1988 was a right step in that direction. It made job training programs more popular by making those who collected welfare get on the programs. California, for instance, spent $289 million in 1994 on a job training program called Greater Avenues for Independence (G.A.I.N.). A recent study by the Manpower Demonstration and Research Corporation found that single parents who joined the program are now earning an average 20% more than people who did not take part in the program. I think more programs like this should take the place of the original welfare programs (Lacayo, 3). For those who point out that crime will be more rampant with the reduction of welfare, I ask, “how can it be?” With more job training, the needy will have the more resources to help themselves. There will be more choices open for them. The economy will benefit from the job training as well. The needy will be consumers by there own merit. As for the comparisons to other European countries, we are not like them in many areas, which make us all the more successful. England has had a very troubled past with their “cradle to grave” type welfare system. By getting a more sophisticated welfare system, we would just be adding more to our deficit. There is already too much the American people are paying for. I think that the United States has to make welfare programs such as the A.F.D.C. work on a more temporary basis. The programs cannot be looked upon as a long term service. Anything longer than 12-18 months is excessive and should be discontinued. As of now, only 70% of A.F.D.C. recipients get off after two years of the service. Worse than that is the fact that 7% of the recipients stay on the program for at least 8 years (Robinson, 166). Another big problem with the AFDC is that roughly 85% of those collecting checks in 1986 were single mothers with young children (Long, 78). The fathers of these children must help in their children’s lives instead of having them be dependent on the state. This is happening today. Deadbeat fathers are being brought to justice much more and this must continue. Problems with mothers getting pregnant while on welfare is also starting to be addressed by the government in the states such as New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Georgia. These states have setup penalties for mothers who continue to get pregnant while on welfare. The states do not raise welfare checks for extra children conceived while on welfare. This policy has received some success (Lacoya, page 3). Recently there has been many sweeping changes in the Welfare system. A new welfare law that was signed on August 22nd has just recently come into effect (Fagan). The changes include a 56 billion cut into the current welfare system .