"Welfare Reform"
submitted by Dawn

I do not believe that our government is family friendly, unless you are what is considered by
the government as the “normal” family. By “normal” I mean two parents, mother and father,
where the father provides for the family financially, and the mother stays home and cares
for the children. I also believe our government sees poor single parent and two parent
families as the bottom of the barrel and are to blame for their circumstances. President
Clinton campaigned on his promise to “end welfare as we know it.” (Gilens, IV) In the
midterm election of 1994 the republicans gained the majority of congress and further
pushed President Clinton to fulfill his promise to reform welfare. Clinton was also getting
ready to launch his reelection campaign for 1996. (Gilens, 21-22) As a result the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was signed into law on
August 22, 1996 by President Clinton. (Zucchino, 13) This was the largest and toughest
reforms on welfare since its beginning over sixty years before.

When the Aid to Dependent Children Program was launched in 1935, it was to do the exact
opposite of the Personal Responsibility Act and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of
1996 did. The targets of the Aid to Dependent Children program were women with children
who were widowed, divorced, abandoned or whose husband was incapacitated. Its original
intent was so that poor mothers did not have to work and could stay home and raise their
children. (Zucchino, 62-63) It discouraged poor women to work and insisted their place was
home with their children. The words of economist Edwin Witte, whom Franklin Roosevelt
got to, write the bill, sums up what the program was designed to do. He said the program
was: “to release from the wage-earning role the parent whose task is to raise children.”
(De Parle, 85-86)

Over the sixty years since its birth, welfare has come full circle.
There are seven main provisions to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996. The first provision is that states are given a certain fixed amount
of money though federal block grants. The states are allotted much flexibility as to how they
spend these grants. The second provision is that parents must find work within two years of
receiving cash assistance; however the states could choose to shorten this time period.
The third provision is that families have a five-year lifetime cap on cash assistance. Again
states can choose to reduce this amount of time. The fourth provision is that single
unmarried teen parents live with their parents or in an alternative adult- supervised setting
and stay in school. It is optional for states to give assistance to unmarried teen parents. The
fifth provision is that over a six year period many federal assistance programs for the poor
were to be cut by $54.5 billion. These cuts include $27 billion from the food stamp program,
$7 billion from the Supplement Security Income program for children, $3 billion from
programs for child nutrition and $2.5 billion for Social Services. It also became more difficult
for children to be determined disabled and to receive Supplemental Security Income, in
many instances children that if they were adults, would qualify for benefits now did not. The
sixth provision is that legal immigrants were not eligible for food stamps. Also immigrants
that came to the United States after the bill was signed were not eligible for Supplemental
Security Income, TANF or Medicaid. The last of the main provisions of the bill is that the
federal government is now limited to $16.4 billion in grants to the states each year. There is
no allowance for the increase in inflation or population. (Zinn and Eitzen, 489-490)

I do not believe that this Act will accomplish what it intends to. I think that the poor will
remain in poverty whether they are on welfare or working low paying jobs. The way things
are set up; poor families are being forced into roles they may not be able to fulfill. There are
not enough jobs that pay high enough wages for a poor family to get ahead.

This policy is showing that single parents homes are not as good as two parent homes and
that single parents should have to work hard enough to compensate for the absent parent
and be as self sufficient as households with two parents. This policy seems to consider
unwed teen mothers as even worse than adult single mothers. The states are not even
required to give teen mothers any help. This policy does not particularly affect certain types
of families more than others. Traditional nuclear families may have a slight advantage in
that in some states one parent may be exempt from the work requirements under certain
circumstances. This policy encourages poor women to marry in order to become more
stable. The government is an advocate of marriage to be the solution of poor women. (Zinn
and Eitzen, 285) George W. Bush even proposed the “marriage initiative.” This was a plan
to direct $300 million a year of former welfare money into various marriage promotion
programs. (De Parle, 329) This seems to be a contradiction. On one hand women are
expected to take on more egalitarian roles and work to support their families. On the same
token the government encourages women to marry to improve their economic situation
which is telling those women that they need a man to take care of them, which reinforces
more traditional gender roles. This bill is directed at women more than men, but I'm not sure
women actually benefit from the policy. This policy affects mostly lower class. Only the
lower class qualifies for welfare, so they are the ones impacted by this policy. The lower
class is affected by this policy in the amount of government assistance they can receive.

This policy has differential effects for those with different racial and ethnic background.
Legal immigrants no longer qualify for most state welfare programs. Many immigrants live in
poverty and the fact they cannot get assistance gives them little hope of pulling themselves
out of their economic situations. African Americans are also more impacted than white
families. While whites out number African Americans that receive welfare , (Zinn and Eitzen,
475) and indicator of reliance on welfare is single parenthood and African Americans are
almost twice as likely to have never been married than whites. (Carroll, 264)This would
indicate a higher percentage of African Americans needing assistance, thus the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 would have greater effects
on blacks than whites.

I do not agree with the policy. I think that there are much better ways to deal with poverty
and the poor than to just toss them to the lions so to speak. I think that if our government
can spend billions of dollars on war, we can help our needy. We are one of the richest
nations in the world, yet other nations care for their poor much better than we do. Out of 13
of the world's most affluent industrial nations, only one spends less of their budget on
government social spending, that nation is Japan. Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and
Sweden spend almost double in percentage of their budget than the U.S. does. In addition
we do not have many of the social programs that are in place a majority of other affluent
democratic nations. Almost all of them have a universal health care program, most have
government paid maternal benefits ranging from 3 months to 1 year. Many of these nations
also offer subsidies for child care for preschool children. (Gilens, 22-23) If other nations can
do this, why can't we?

I think that this policy needs to be dramatically changed. First of all, we need to catch up to
other nations, offer better child care subsidies, offer a universal health care program, paid
maternal and paternal leave, raise minimum wage and offer the poor education. There are
many people that given the opportunity to get an education still cannot make the cut. I think
for these people, real job training and education are necessary. Train them to be
mechanics, bricklayers, carpenters and so forth. Give incentives for self improvement. If a
welfare parent wants to go to college, let them receive benefits while in school, as long as
they are doing well. I know from a friend of mine’s personal experience that they do not
want you to go to school instead of working; they even penalize you in two parent
households for this. Both my friend and her husband attend school full time and receive
food stamps. In the state if Illinois, only one of them is exempt from work so their food
stamps were cut, however if  both were sitting home unemployed and not attending school
they would not have been cut. This is wrong, if someone is trying to educate themselves to
get a better job, why shouldn't they be helped. I also think that there should be mandatory
drug rehab for those with drug and alcohol problems. In my opinion the government is
lacking in how it helps out families. No one should be homeless or hungry in our society. No
one should be without water or electricity; our government should be doing more to ensure
families do not have to live in these conditions. I also think the government should be
promoting families in all the forms they come in. I don't think they should be making the
traditional nuclear family the norm, and all others abnormal, a family is a family, no matter
what it looks like. Times have changed and our government needs to keep up with all of our
society's needs.

Works Cited

Carrol, Janell L. Second Edition: Sexuality Now, Embracing Diversity. Belmont:
Thomson Higher Learning, 2007.
DeParle, Jason. American Dream. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.
Eitzen, Stanley D. and Maxine Baca Zinn. Second Edition: Diversity in Families. Boston:
Library of Congress Cataloging-in -Publication Data, 2005.
Gilens, Martin. Why Americans Hate Welfare. Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1999.
Zucchino, David. Myths of the Welfare Queen. New York: Scribner, 1997.