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the social welfare system; this article provides a beginning framework for analysis of welfare
reform and reviews the major proposals now being circulated.
litigation, and advocates have been increasingly successful in their courtroom efforts.
Sweeping Changes in Immigration Laws Affect Aliens' Rights to Work and Legalize
Beginning in May 1987, an estimated 2.2 million aliens who have lived in the United States
immigration reform bill.
Toward Reform of the Welfare System: Is Consensus Emerging?
by Paula Roberts and Rhoda Schulzinger
When people refer to the “welfare system,” they usually mean programs designed to help poor families with children. These generally include Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamps, Medicaid, and, for some, the supplemental security income (SSI) program. Currently, many very poor families are ineligible for AFDC and Medicaid. In fact, in 1984, barely half of the poor children in America received AFDC.' Even if a family is lucky enough to qualify for AFDC, benefits are meager. For example, in January 1986, a family of four in Alabama could receive a maximum grant of $147 per month; a similar family in Maryland could receive no more than $395 each month.? Even with the addition of food stamps, few families receive a combination of benefits sufficient to move them out of poverty. Moreover, the purchasing power of benefits has declined: in the typical state, benefits are now 33 percent lower than in 1970, after adjustment for inflation.
As a result, despite what are perceived to be large federal expenditures, poverty is widespread in America. For some groups, it is unconscionable. For example, in 1984, children who lived in single-parent, female-headed families had a poverty rate of 54 percent.* Children living in black families
had an overall poverty rate of over 46 percent, and those living in Hispanic families experienced a poverty rate of almost 39 percent."
Public opinion polls show that most Americans would like to see the federal government eradicate this poverty. Yet, while there is consensus on this goal, there is deep division on how to attain it. In the past, this division has prevented the achievement of welfare reform. In the last year, however, politicians, policymakers, and academics representing different disciplines and political viewpoints, alarmed at the increase in poverty, have begun to suggest ways to reform the social welfare system. Some of these ideas may actually be implemented. If they are, low-income people will be profoundly affected. For this reason, advocates need to be aware of the proposed changes and what they could mean.
This article is intended to provide a beginning framework for analysis. It starts with a brief overview of the economic realities, philosophical perspectives, and social experiments that have combined to re-ignite interest in welfare reform. Next, it reviews the major proposals now being circulated. Then, it examines the political climate for indications of the possibility that reform can be achieved in the near future. Finally, it contains a bibliography of materials with which advocates may wish to become familiar. Those seriously interested in welfare reform can use this as a starting point for their own work. The authors have also prepared a chart outlining the major proposals, which is available from the Center for Law and Social Policy.
Despite what are perceived to be large federal expenditures, poverty is widespread in America.
II. The Basics of the Debate
A. Economic Issues
Paula Roberts and Rhoda Schulzinger are attorneys at the Center for Law and Social Policy, 1616 P St., NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 328-5140. Funds for this research paper were provided by the Max and Anna Levinson, Ford, and Charles H. Revson Foundations. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.
Any meaningful discussion of welfare reform must start with a consideration of America's current economic status. On the bright side, taxes, inflation, and interest rates are down. Per capita income and the number of new jobs in the economy are
1. House SELECT COMM. ON CHILDREN, YOUTH, & FAMILIES,
SAFETY NET PROGRAMS: ARE THEY REACHING POOR CHILDREN?,
99th Cong., 2d Sess. 27 (1986). 2. Id. at 44. 3. Congressional Research Services, unpublished data. 4. CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND, A CHILDREN'S DEFENSE BUDGET
OPINION, ne/J 1985.