Sunday, April 23, 2017

A student offers a reaction to welfare reform

This student reacted to the $2 A Day book and a report on welfare reform.

My reaction to welfare reform

In my social welfare and policy class we study the history of social welfare policy and services. The policies and services are introduced through lecture and text.  We also study the client(s) in relations to policy and services, sometimes as their advocates. One of the texts required for the class is “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” written by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. This informative book described the history of welfare and its reform. Formally known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare (cash assistance) is supplemented with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and sometimes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other programs. Edin and Shaefer’s book explained that the purpose of reform was to keep people from taking advantage of the system, and also the reformers wanted to help those on the program become independent. Edin and Shaefer also gave insights, using cases of actual people who were dealing with the system and the current effects of the reform. 
The requirements when you apply for TANF consist of having an address proving where you reside (lease and rent receipt), your recent pay stubs (if working) or proof of any income (SSI, Disability, retirement child support,..etc), proof of income for everyone living in the household, your checking and savings account statements (cannot exceed $2,000), birth certificate, and Social Security card. I was a bit curious and decided to search the internet for more information on the welfare reform and came across a research report conducted in 1998 by Michigan State University. “Social Welfare Reforms in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio Wisconsin”, written by Dr. Fayyaz Hussain. Dr. Hussain received his Ph.D. from Michigan state University in 1991, his expertise includes: poverty, hunger, social demographics and rural sociology.

Per Dr. Hussain the new policy for food stamps in the state of Illinois states:

  1. Food stamps will be given out for only 12 months (can be extended for 12 months if a person in the household is elderly or disabled)
  2. People would be found ineligible for any of the following reasons.
 A) refuse to register for employment 
B) refuse to participate in job training programs
C) refuse to accept an offer for a job
 D) quit a job.

I feel the problem with the reform is it has narrowed the requirements so much that people who qualify and benefit from the program the most are denied or do not qualify at all, because of a technicality. I feel the system is not equipped to deal with individual cases that need special circumstances granted to ensure the health and wellbeing of the individual and/or children, mainly because it does not address the needs of the clients as individuals upon initial contact.

 This book read to me like a novel put together of some of my friends and family life experiences. I was born and raised in Chicago and knew stories like the ones in the book all too well. In the book, it shows how the system reformed to help people has put them in more chaos (poverty, hunger, and homelessness). 

The system was set up to serve and provide for the public the basic needs for survival but people’s circumstances and needs vary. The policy requirements can be unrealistic for someone homeless with children. What if a woman finds a job that requires her to be outside past the homeless shelter’s curfew time. It leaves her with the decision of being homeless with SNAP benefits and a job, but will she be able to keep the job while fighting homelessness? If she quits she is most definitely going to be kicked from the program. An example in the book illustrated a woman and her daughter who were forced to live with distant relatives, a situation in which her daughter was sexually assaulted by the family member. The people in the book want what most of middle and upper class people take for granted, a stable home, stable work, and food. I think the system needs to be revised again to better serve the people in need. We all deserve to be fed and safe at night in a home with our loved ones. The US is a rich, powerful, and influential country yet our people are homeless and starving everyday. 

Yes, the key points are that TANF is now so paltry and restrictive that many people (about 1% to 1.5%) of the American population is not getting any cash assistance, and they cannot get any steady cash income. Many of these people have difficulties finding stable housing. With almost no cash income and no secure housing, their lives are so precarious that holding a job becomes extremely difficult.  If we as a society gave people more resources and stability, those who are willing to work would have a foundation of welfare that would help them settle down and find work, if any work were available.  
Providing jobs and providing stable and secure housing would solve many of the problems for these desperately poor persons.  However, in come cases we may also need to provide a more generous system of benefits if the adults are unable to work, or if they would be better off devoting their time to the care of their children and self-improvement until the children are older. 
The assumption that people must work, and must accept whatever jobs the capitalist system offers them, is an assumption that devalues human liberty and dignity, and puts more value on property rights and wealth.  Surely workers and potential workers ought to be given security in their basic rights to a life of dignity and freedom from material want, so that a spartan but secure and healthy lifestyle is available to all. Those who want luxuries or material advancement beyond the basic fundamental material necessities should be able to enter the labor force, but I see no reason to force everyone into the labor force.  

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