Welfare: handouts to the lazy, or a helping hand to those facing hard times? The debate continues, even in the face of sweeping welfare reform, which, for all of its sound and fury, has not helped or changed much. What's wrong with welfare and how can we fix it? This is not a simple question, and there is no simple answer. However, one thing remains eminently clear. Welfare desperately needs to change. But where are we now? Are we headed backward or forward? Does anybody even care? To answer these questions, we must catch a glimpse of the world of welfare.
It is not a pretty sight. Welfare is Odessa, a grandmother in her seventies, who digs through other people's trash to find suitable clothes for her grandchildren. Welfare is Mariluz, who lived in a tent with two children below the age of five, because her welfare check would not pay the rent of even the most squalid apartments in North Philadelphia. Welfare is Destiny, a five year old who cried in class, because when asked to recite her address, she realized that because of the numerous evictions she had been through she could not remember it. Welfare is Cheri, who after being cut off of welfare for missing a meeting, worked as a topless dancer to avoid being out on the street with her teenage son. Welfare is a Virginia family of four living on $347 a month. Welfare is waiting years to be placed on the waiting list for a job training program. Welfare is run down neighborhoods, inferior schools, and dilapidated housing. Welfare is not a picnic.
Of course, from a less human standpoint, welfare is a group of entitlement programs aimed at helping the poor. What most people are referring to when they say "welfare" is Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), a program which provides monthly checks to families in which all adults in the household are unemployed. Most, but not all, of the recipients are single mothers. AFDC recipients are often eligible for many other programs, including Medicare, food stamps, Aid to Woem with Infant children (WIC) and subsidized housing. While not all AFDC recipients receive all of these benefits, enough do that they are considered part of the welfare equation. The majority of these programs have come to be resented by middle America. The resounding echo of the middle class has been "welfare's a mess, let's go back to the way things were."
Actually, it would be difficult to find a time in America when welfare was not a part of society. In colonial times, towns or churches often took responsibility for their poor. Some towns required residents to house the homeless, most towns and churches had charity programs which members were required to contribute to. While community support of the poor was a concept as old as time, welfare as we are familiar with it did not begin into 1935, when Roosevelt incorporated it into his New Deal legislature.
It began as a small part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Social Security Act. In addition to AFDC, the Act consisted of the programs we now call medicaid, medicare and social security. It originally included several other programs, which have been incorporated into the others over time. The Social Security act was meant to help Americans who had been hurt by the Great Depression get back on their feet as the economy picked up. Even critics of the Act never imagined how far-reaching the programs in it would become. Critics did, however, say that the entire act was a breeding ground for waste, fraud, and misuse. Roosevelt answered them by saying, "Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in the spirit of charity, then the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." Indeed, the Social Security Act was originally created in the spirit of charity. For quite some time, AFDC accomplished its mission-- to allow single mothers who had been widowed or deserted by their...