Social Policy and the Welfare System
HN300-01 Human Services and Social Policy
Professor Lorena Lashway
May 1, 2012
Social Policy and the Welfare System
Over one hundred years ago poverty-stricken Americans’ means of assistance was met through families, local communities, and charities, typically religious. Following industrialization in the 1870s, the nation’s adult workforce was flooded by employers who were dependent on a continuing flow of money income to provide for themselves and their families (Historical Development, 1997). Over time, measures such as Mother’s pension laws, were adopted in a number of states which gave cash allowances to households without a wage-earning father so that the children could remain at home with their mother rather than being placed in institutions or foster homes (Historical Development, 1997). In the mid-twenties, some states even experimented with old-age assistance and aid to the blind. During this time the states and federal government began to realize that certain risks in an increasingly industrialized economy were best addressed through a social insurance approach to public welfare. This shifted the structure of the public welfare system from a public assistance approach, whereby only those persons in need would be eligible for benefits, to a contributory financing of social insurance programs that would ensure availability of benefits as a matter of right (Historical Development, 1997). Thus in 1911, the first constitutional state compensation law was enacted and by 1929 workers’ compensation laws were in effect in all but four states. In response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, great change in social policy manifested with President Roosevelt’s’ passing of the “New Deal”, which established Social Security and Aid to Dependent Children. This was the beginning of the American Welfare System and for the next sixty-one years the U.S. Welfare System remained under the control of the federal government. During this time further expansion came in the 1960s with the establishment of Medicare, Medicaid, and Public Housing (Historical Development, 1997).
“The development of social welfare programs has been strongly pragmatic and incremental” (Historical Development, 1997). Rather than responding to a broad national agenda, proposals for welfare system change are formulated in response to specific social problems. Developed in response to social problems, social welfare policy does not share a linear relationship to social problems and not all social problems result in social welfare policy (American Social Welfare Policy, 2009). In society, government enacts laws, makes policies, and allocates resources. The generalized definition of public policy is, “a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a government entity or its representatives” (Kilpatrick, Dean G., PhD., 2000). Through education, advocacy and organization of interest groups, individuals often attempt to shape public policy. University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor of social work, William M. Epstein, defines social policy as, “social action sanctioned by society” (American Social Welfare Policy, 2009). “Welfare policy, whether the product of governmental, voluntary or corporate institutions, is concerned with allocating goods, services and opportunities to enhance social functioning” (American Social Welfare Policy, 2009). Social welfare is not only an expression of social charity, but contributes to the maintenance and survival of society (American Social Welfare Policy, 2009). Social welfare policies are shaped by social and personal values that represent the preferences of the decision makers. It helps hold together a society that may fracture along social, political and economic stress lines. Social welfare policy is useful in enforcing social control, subsidizing...