Welfare programs should not be a political issue

Welfare was created to help people, and it should continue for the same reason: because it helps people.

Americans have always taken great pride in their strong sense of individuality and independence. But during the Great Depression, the United States government implemented welfare programs that aimed to bring back the economy and help relieve Americans. This national welfare program was a major departure from the past. Despite the dire need for aid, even during the Great Depression, many people had the opinion that people who couldn’t care for themselves were responsible for their own problems. This sense of self-sufficiency has only inflated since this time: welfare programs have become a major political issue. 

The effectiveness and positive results of welfare programs are inarguable. By 1939, the New Deal had helped the Great Depression-affected Americans live better lives: it established a precedent for the federal government to assist in regulating the country’s economic, social, and political affairs, and proclaimed that even the poor have rights. Today, millions of Americans still utilize forms of welfare. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) offers assistance to low-income families. Medicaid was created to help low-income Americans access health care. SNAP, or as it is more commonly known as food stamps, helps Americans buy food. 

States are now in charge of their welfare programs. Depending on the political leaning of a given state’s leadership, some states increase and extend their welfare programs, and some states do the opposite. With this divide in support for welfare programs at the state level, we see an increase in the politics of welfare. Individuals and families that depend on these programs increasingly have to vote so that their benefits are not in jeopardy. 

With the growing politicization of welfare programs, eligibility requirements for these programs are always increasing. Just last month, federal negotiations about the debt ceiling led to an increase in labor requirements for recipients of SNAP benefits. The implication behind these changes is that many welfare programs are not doing enough to motivate recipients to work hard to get above the poverty line. This argument is shortsighted. Many Americans that have welfare benefits are battling in generational cycles of poverty. Compounded with the decisions of many states to decrease the availability of welfare programs, many Americans are not adequately given the opportunity or resources to alleviate their poverty. Despite these obstacles, studies show that these life-altering programs sustain families, help alleviate the devastating effects of poverty, and encourage upward mobility. 

Welfare is viewed as a black-and-white problem in the US despite the rising racial diversity of the population. The majority of the early welfare programs serviced white mothers, and it wasn’t until the 1960s when states started deliberately removing non-white mothers from the lists that welfare became seen as problematic.

The number of people on welfare dropped by almost 50% in the 1990s due to new limitations placed on the eligibility of welfare, but the poverty rate saw no significant drop. Efforts made by President Clinton to “end welfare as we know it.” A five-year time limit was imposed on payments when Clinton enacted a comprehensive overhaul of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in 1996. One of the primary aims of welfare reform was to improve self-sufficiency through increasing work and decreasing benefit participation. The changes, which renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to TANF, offered states greater freedom in deciding eligibility standards and payment levels. States enacted their own limitations during the same time period.

Welfare was created to help people, and it should continue for the same reason: because it helps people. Government assistance and welfare programs should not be a political issue. Ensuring that these programs continue to do what they were designed to, will ensure that the United States continues to promote the general welfare.