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Welfare, it is on just about everyone’s mind, whether it is Medicare or the AFDC. 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 (AFDC). The AFDC 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 contributes 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 many debates in the United States. Opinions about it vary greatly. Those who are for welfare, stress the importance of having a minimum income for those whom, 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
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Social programs, Federal assistance in the United States, Welfare economics, Welfare, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Guaranteed minimum income, Family Support Act, Social security, Supplemental Security Income, Poverty in the United States, Hidden welfare state
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