The issue of urban poverty in the US did not definitely start yesterday. It has been around for some time now as can be evidenced from the 14th century. It has been a long journey for the US to become a welfare state. Many political theorist and philosophers have debated the institutionalization of the welfare state and the enactment of the Poor Law (otherwise called the Laborers Act) dating back to the 14th century is considered the very initial milestone to the US attainment of its present status of a welfare state (Atkinson, 1995).
However, still in the debate of political theorists, the beginning of welfare statehood in the US can be traced back to the 1942 William Beverage’s report in which he identified five main sources of social disorder (disease, want, squalor, ignorance and idleness). Since then, the US has continued to practice its welfare policy, reforming it here and there to meet the evolving needs of the beneficiaries.
However, the policy has been witnessing a few challenges in that the global changes in economy, racial relations and even technology, especially in the 21st century, have not only called for the analysis of innovations but also a strong welfare policy responses. This paper seeks to highlight the US welfare policy with the aim of establishing the statement that the welfare system and policies in America do work. Introduction American welfare system encompasses a number of activities all aimed at helping out the needy in the US not only meet their basic needs but also demonstrate a dignified life.
The system offers help, both material help and help in kind, to various target groups. US governmental assistance to the needy in the US includes but is not limited to: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Support, Medicaid, Child Care, Child Protection, Food Stamp Program, Child Nutrition Programs, Benefits for Immigrants, Supplemental Security Income and Electronic Benefits Transfer System among other programs that fall under the blanket US welfare system supported by the Welfare policy put in place by the US government (Danziger et al, 1994: pp367-9).
The mention of the word welfare in the US implies a scenario where the government comes in to try and help protect the health of Americans. Even though the Welfare system and policies in the US involve much more than health, welfare system in US is more focused and oriented to the protection of the health of all US citizens besides the provision of necessary human services.
This role of the government in provision of welfare services especially in matters concerning health is amplified by the role played by the Department of Health and Human Services which happens to be the government’s chief agency in offering welfare services in the health field and other welfare services.
Indeed, the department is very instrumental in carrying out this role as seen from its more than 300 programs which covers a wide range of activities such as the prevention of infectious disease outbreak and immunization services, social science and medical research, food and drug safety assurance, prevention and treatment of substances abuse, enforcement of child support programs, older citizens services, infant and maternal health enhancement, domestic violence and child abuse prevention and low-income families’ financial assistance among others.
The welfare system in the US together with the supporting policies have done exemplary well but for a few challenges here and there especially on the issues to do with finances. The global economic crisis poses a great danger to the US welfare arrangements. Nevertheless, the welfare system in US indeed works well. It is not possible to pin point each and every welfare program but taking one or two examples of welfare activities such as TANF, Medicare/Medicare or any other will serve to demonstrate and prove the fact that indeed the US welfare system and policies do work. Welfare policy in America
In the introduction of social welfare, the state had goals to achieve. Some of the goals include the establishment of higher degrees of equality through redistributive justice. Even though the radical right activists did not agree with the idea of redistribution which they termed as a forceful action against the wish of citizens, the socialists agreed with it entirely. If anything, the socialists fought to install a purely egalitarian society. Therefore, in welfare provision, the state achieves some degree of equality by ensuring that everybody has food to eat, clothes to wear and lives in a decent house (decent in this case being relative).
Welfare provision not only aimed at installation of equality in society but also in the provision of greater opportunities to specific marginalized groups such as the aged, poor, needy, women, children, mentally handicapped etc. The state governments, through; help from the federal government; maintain the dignity of these groups of people, something that could be difficult to achieve without welfare provision. Finally, the government aimed at changing the power positions of some groups such as the disadvantaged through the provision of welfare.
The whole idea of social welfare provision was pegged to the empowerment of the less fortunate in the society (Blank, 1997). Today, the community needs have widened with the increase in the cost of living caused by the financial crisis that hit the US recently. This means that there are more people in need of welfare now than any other time in the past. This expanded need is also explained by the high rates of divorce in the American society coupled with the capitalistic orientation of the American citizens.
This therefore leaves the state with the entire responsibility of welfare provision. Therefore, the needy, the poor, the unemployed, the mentally challenged, the aged, the children and the single mothers without employment are such individuals that benefit from the welfare provision not only from the government but also from other well wishers. The numbers of this group of individuals increases with time despite the federal government’s effort to empower the beneficiaries by moving them from welfare to jobs (Trattner, 1999).
Even though the welfare provision has been beneficial to those in need it is never devoid of failures. For example, the cases of child abuse have shown the laxity of social workers and inefficiency of welfare provision. This, among other failures, has caused a call for reform of the social welfare policy. The call for reform is based on the fact that despite the fact that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was meant to end welfare dependency it is more coercive to an extent that it leads to more social problems such as homelessness.
The objectives of TANF is to provide for needy families so as to encourage children to be nurtured at their homes, end dependency on welfare by promoting job preparation, employment and marriage to support the needy families out of their needy status, support the creation and preservation of two- parent families and prevent illegitimate children through pregnancies out of wedlock (Family Service America, 1999: p409). Based on these objectives, the program requirements include:
? Beneficiaries must start working as soon as they are ready to work after preparation or within two years after commencement of assistance. ? Parents either single or not are required to work for the assistance. The single parents and double parents are to work for 30 and 35-55 hours respectively ? Failure to participate in work activities for the weekly hours stipulated may lead to reduction or withdrawal of the benefits from the family These requirements are both precursors to the TANF’s social and cost effective orientation.
The TANF program encourages the provision of mainly the services and goods that the family requires and on limited instances does it give cash. This failure to give cash tries to prevent the financial irresponsibility of the parents from negatively impacting the rest of the family members. The program in a way limits the freedom of the beneficiaries by not readily agreeing to give cash thus the families have to settle for what is provided. After all they don’t have much of a choice. The program is often provided through organizations relevant to the service being offered.
These include hospitals (to provide Medicaid arrangements for the needy families), homes, schools, and general government- set up social welfare provision organizations fully constituted of permanent and volunteer social workers who help in service provision. The community based organizations often have very few paid employees with a working budget. The most part of their activities is done by volunteers. Other organizations such as Isaacs centre rely on donation to give services to the needy families.
The program, as much as it appears to be institutional, it actually represents the residual society’s view of social welfare because of the states commitment to reduce the number of beneficiaries through work empowerment a move seen to be both social and cost effective (Congressional Report Requesters, 2005: p6). The program needs to be institutional more than it is currently this is warranted by the fact that the shift from AFDC to TANF caused more social problems because some circumstances would not allow some family parents to work for the prescribed hours.
The stiff requirements needed by the present policy program needs to be relaxed a bit and this is where the social workers need to come in strongly. Their immediate touch with the needy families can be handy in collecting data on what the needy families feel should be done to make the program efficient; what do they like and what do they detest about the program. One major change that needs to be made is offering more freedom to the beneficiaries by giving them cash alongside the goods and services that they indicate that they need.
In this way, we will have a satisfied lot of welfare beneficiaries. The government should also address the issue of unemployment to curb the expansion of welfare beneficiaries. Hypothesis Testing and Conclusion It is true that the welfare system in the US has had a fair deal of challenges but it has proven to be efficient especially in the provision of health services to the less fortunate as well as the needy families’ assistance among other arrangements that have immensely affected families in a positive way.
The situation is far much better than a situation where there weren’t such arrangements at all and thus this proves the point that the system is working. Secondly, there are beneficiaries who are indeed grateful that the US became a welfare state in the first place because they could not know what they could have done without such welfare arrangements. This therefore implies that if the system wasn’t working, nobody will be grateful.
Finally, the government continues to spend a large amount of money on welfare. The Medicaid and Medicare for instance see their allocation in the federal budget increased each financial year and there are fears that it will reach a point where the entire budget will be funding these welfare policies. Such increasing allocations show that the system is working and continues to embrace new beneficiaries’ everyday. In conclusion, the welfare system in the US works.
Even though it might not be working at its optimum level due to logistics and dynamics of global economy, even though the programs may be overwhelmed by the number of beneficiaries and hence the risk of the programs grinding into a halt due to inefficiency and financial challenges and even though critics post inefficiency of the welfare system and policies, the system works quite well and things would be much worse without the system. References Blank R, (1997): Who Should Help the Poor? New York: Russell Sage Foundation Trattner W, (1999): From Poor Law to Welfare State; A History of Social Welfare in America.
The Free Press Atkinson AB, (1995): The welfare state and economic performance, Cambridge University Press Family Service America, (1999): Families in Society, Family Service America, p 409 Congressional Report Requesters, (2005): TANF and Child Care Programs HHS Lacks Adequate Information to Assess Risk and Assist States in Managing Improper Payments: Report To Congressional Requesters, DIANE Publishing, p6 Danziger S, Sandefur GD and Weinberg DH, (1994): Confronting Poverty: Prescriptions for Change, Harvard University Press, pp 367