Thursday, April 20, 2017

Student examines welfare reform from the 1990s

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 text 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 spoke on 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) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The book explained the purpose of reform was to keep people from taking advantage of the system and to help those on the program become independent. Edin and Shaefer also gave insight, actual people, dealing with the system and the current effects of the reform. The requirements when you apply consist of 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 shelters 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 in most definitely going to be kicked from the program. An example in the book illustrated a woman and her daughter that was forced to live with distant relatives 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. 

The welfare system in the USA has an assumption that people should be in the labor force.  They must take jobs if jobs are available.  The suitability of the job or the job conditions are not of much significance. This shows that the welfare system serves the needs of the employers, who need a group of desperate potential workers who will take jobs that are low-paying and dehumanizing.  If we allowed people to receive welfare support until they found satisfactory jobs that were suitable for them, our workers would be more selective about the sort of work they accepted.  But this gets at a fundamental problem of how work is organized: to get things made, it seems there are always going to be some jobs that are dirty, difficult, or dangerous.  If this was a society that valued the humanity of workers, we would let workers take those jobs only if they were well-paid, or we would use a system that allowed them to avoid such jobs.  But, as it is, our welfare system and our political ideologies are not oriented toward the well-being of humanity: we are instead most interested in the interests of owners and businesses and employers, and so we have a fairly miserly welfare system.

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