The W-Word? What in the world is that?
Welfare. Certainly many a number of opinions on it.
So, sometime over the last week I was playing cards. We usually play once or twice a week. At this game topics range from business affairs, the political landscape, entertainment; whatever happens to come up. There are some strong opinions expressed. Oftentimes there’s no small amount of agitation. And yet sometimes I get filled in on things I may have missed.
During this particular game, the discussion of President Trump’s war on welfare to work was brought up. I was admittedly not familiar with this aspect of his policy, so I started where I always start when it’s time to begin research: Google.
Basically, it comes down to the Trump Administration’s budget proposal, which shows significant cuts given to various welfare programs, and requirements proposed for recipients to either work or volunteer if they are able to do so. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
But what is welfare?
definition (Oxford Collegiate Dictionary):
1wel•fare \ ‘wel-,fare\ n [ME, fr. the phrase wel faren to fare well] (14c) 1: the state of doing well esp. in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity 2 a: aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need b: an agency or program through which such aid is distributed
2 welfare adj (1904) 1: of, relating to, or concerned with welfare and esp. with improvement of the welfare of disadvantaged social groups (~legislation) 2: receiving public welfare benefits (~families)
And that seems okay – caring about the well-being, happiness, fortunes, and prosperity of others.
Yet, anytime legislation is created to focus on the public good, there are going to be conceptions of winners and losers.
What of American policies in welfare?
Early welfare systems in America were based on the British “Poor Laws”: “These laws made a distinction between those who were unable to work due to their age or physical health and those who were able-bodied but unemployed. The former group was assisted with cash or alternative forms of help from the government. The latter group was given public service employment in workhouses.”
Changes were made throughout the 1800s, including a push to use caseworkers to evaluate claims. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, “During the Great Depression of the 1930s, local and state governments as well as private charities were overwhelmed by needy families seeking food, clothing, and shelter. In 1935, welfare for poor children and other dependent persons became a federal government responsibility, which it remained for 60 years.”
This “federal government responsibility,” known as the Social Security Act, was enacted to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws; to establish a Social Security Board; to raise revenue; and for other purposes.”
Welfare history continued to be made when in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Under the act, the federal government gives annual lump sums to the states to use to assist the poor. In turn the states must adhere to certain criteria to ensure that those receiving aid are being encouraged to move from welfare to work. Though some have criticized the program, many acknowledge it has been successful.
Which finally brings us into the current charged political climate. Under the Trump Administration’s budget proposal (introduced now nearly two months ago), the proposal was for the reduction of spending to welfare programs “from food stamps to tax credits and welfare payments by $274 billion over a decade, largely by tightening eligibility for these programs, according to administration officials.”
According to Statistic Brain, who pulled stats from the US Dept. of Commerce, the number of Americans receiving welfare government (non-Medicaid) assistance was 67,891,000 in 2016. This breaks down into roughly:
- 41 million people on SNAP
- 10 million on unemployment
- 7.5 million individuals living in a home that receives housing assistance
- 4.3 million received TANF (during previous 12 month period / graphic below shows TANF from 1996-2010)
- 4.5 million received some other type of assistance
This remains a hotly debated topic, with arguments on both sides. Each can give statistics to back their case, such as:
“Three quarters of households using SNAP contain children, seniors, or people with disabilities, said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Without SNAP, the country would have had 3 to 4.5 million more people in poverty during the recession, she said.”
“In December 2014, in Maine, the local government chose not to renew its waiver of the Welfare to Work program. At the time, there were 13,332 people who were claiming Stamps and were not exempt from the program; by March, the number of claimants had dropped 80%! More than 9,000 people had decided (or coincidently happened) to either get a job or choose to not claim.”
The thing is, I can find statistics from different research organizations, and the results appear contradictory. It’s all in how the information framed. If it comes down to a matter of policy, than the proposed welfare to work provisions seem okay. If it comes down to a consideration of citizens, maybe not so much. For me, I’ll always err on the side of helping those in need, even though there may be some who would take advantage of that.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”