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The emphasis during the first two years of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" was to provide work relief for the millions of unemployed Americans. Federal money came to the states pay for public works projects, which employed the jobless. Some federal aid also directly assisted needy victims of the Depression. The states, however, remained mainly responsible for taking care of the unemployables (widows, poor children, the elderly poor, and the disabled). But states and private charities, too, were unable to keep up the support of these people at a time when tax collections and personal giving were declining steeply. In his State of the Union Address before Congress on January 4, 1935, President Roosevelt said “the time has come for action by the national government" to provide "security against the major hazards and vicissitudes [uncertainties] of life." He went on to propose the creation of federal unemployment and old-age insurance programs. He also called for guaranteed benefits for poor single mothers and their children along with other dependent persons.
By permanently expanding federal responsibility for the security of all Americans, Roosevelt believed that the necessity for government make-work employment and other forms of Depression relief would disappear. In his address before Congress, Roosevelt argued that the continuation of government relief programs was a bad thing for the country: “lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit . . ..”
A few months later, on August 18, 1935, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. It set up a federal retirement program for persons over 65, which was financed by a payroll tax paid jointly by employers and their workers. FDR believed that federal old-age pensions together with employer-paid unemployment insurance (also a part of the Social Security Act) would provide the economic security people needed during both good and bad times.
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This is how welfare began as a federal government responsibility. Roosevelt and the members of Congress who wrote the welfare provisions into the Social Security Act thought that the need for federal aid to dependent children and poor old people would gradually go away as employment improved and those over 65 began to collect Social Security pensions. But many Americans, such as farm laborers and domestic servants, were never included in the Social Security old-age retirement program. Also, since 1935, increasing divorce and father desertion rates have dramatically multiplied the number of poor single mothers with dependent children. Since the Great Depression, the national welfare system expanded both in coverage and federal regulations. From its inception, the system drew critics. Some complained that the system did not do enough to get people to work. Others simply believed the federal government should not administer a welfare system. As the system grew, so did criticism of it, especially in the 1980s and '90s.
In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton, a Democrat, ran for president promising to "end welfare as we know it." In 1996, a Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed a reform law that returned most control of welfare back to the states, thus ending 61 years of federal responsibility. When the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program began in 1936, it provided cash aid to about 500,000 children and parents. By 1969, the number had grown to nearly 7 million.
Over the years, Congress added new programs. President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" provided major non-cash benefits to AFDC recipients as well as to other needy persons. In 1964, Congress approved a food stamp program for all low-income households. The next year, Congress created Medicaid, a federal and state funded health-care system for the destitute elderly, disabled persons, and AFDC families. In 1974, during the Nixon presidency, Congress established the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to provide aid to the needy elderly, blind, and disabled. This program made up the last major component of the federal welfare system.
By 1994, more of the nation's needy families, elderly, and disabled received federal welfare than ever before. Aid to Families with Dependent Children alone supported more than 14 million children and their parents. By the 1990s, AFDC supported 15 percent of all U.S. children. In most cases, these children lived at home and were cared for by a single parent, usually the mother, who did not work. In August 1996, after 18 months of debate, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. This welfare reform law ended 61 years of AFDC guaranteed cash assistance to every eligible poor family with children. The new law turned over to the states the authority to design their own welfare programs and to move recipients to work. Under the new law, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, funded by federal block grants and state money, replaced AFDC. States are given wide discretion in determining eligibility and the conditions under which families may receive public aid. But Congress tied a number of strict work requirements to the federal block grants:
· Adults receiving family cash-aid benefits must go to work within two years. States may exempt a parent with a child under 1 for no more than 12 months.
· States had to have 25 percent of their welfare caseloads at work in 1997 and 50 percent of their caseloads at work by 2002. States who fail to meet these requirements will lose 5 percent of their federal block grants.
· Each adult is limited to no more than five years of cash assistance during his or her lifetime. But states may exempt up to 20 percent of their caseloads from this limit.
A 1995 study by the Cato Institute revealed that the value of the total benefit package received by a typical welfare recipient averaged more than $17,000, ranging from a high of over $36,000 in Hawaii to a low of $11,500 in Mississippi. In 9 states welfare pays more than the average first-year salary for a teacher. In 29 states welfare pays more than the average starting salary for a secretary. In 47 states welfare pays more than a janitor makes. In the 6 states benefits exceed the entry-level salary for a computer programmer.
The next part of my paper will be the results of the ladies that I interviewed. The first lady I interviewed was Kimberly French. Kimberly is a mother of two, she did not complete her education, and her children fathers are absent in their life. My first question to Kim was “how long have you been receiving public assistance?” Kim responded 9 years (The same age as her oldest child). My next question was what type of assistance do you receive? Kim response was, “welfare checks, food vouchers, section 8, and whenever I work they pay for my kids after school care.” My next question was how many months in a year do you work? Kim said, “I work about four months out of a year”. Of course the next thing I want to know is why you are only working four months a year if you have two children to support. Kim response was “I can only find work in fast food places, and they do not pay enough.”
The next person I interviewed was Tamika Glad. Tamika situation is a little different than Kim’s. Tamika just turned 20 last month and she already has three children. Tamika’s mother was on welfare when Tamika and her sisters was younger, and her mother had her at the age of 15.I started by asking Tamika, what type of public assistance do you receive? Tamika responded by saying “welfare, wic, food stamps. My next question was what are you doing to better your life? Tamika said, “I plan on going to night school to get my GED, then I am going to go to college.” I asked what you do everyday. I wake and make the kids breakfast, then we mainly watch T.V. all day or go