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Social programs in the United States are welfare subsidies designed to aid the needs of the U.S. population. Proposals for federal programs began with Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism and expanded with Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.
The programs vary in eligibility requirements and are provided by various organizations on a federal, state, local and private level. They help to provide food, shelter, education, healthcare and money to U.S. citizens through primary and secondary education, subsidies of college education, unemployment disability insurance, subsidies for eligible low-wage workers, subsidies for housing, food stamps, pensions for eligible persons and health insurance programs that cover public employees.
In 2002, total U.S. social welfare expenditure constitutes roughly 35% of GDP, with purely public expenditure constituting 21%, publicly supported but privately provided welfare services constituting 10% of GDP and purely private services constituting 4% of GDP. This compared to France and Sweden whose welfare spending ranges from 30% to 35% of GDP.
The American welfare state was designed to address market shortcomings and do what private enterprises cannot or will not do themselves. Unlike welfare states built on social democracy foundations it was not designed to promote a redistribution of political power from capital to labor; nor was it designed to mediate class struggle. Income redistribution, through programs such as the Earned income tax credit(EITC), has been defended on the grounds that the market cannot provide goods and services universally, while interventions going beyond transfers are justified by the presence of imperfect information, imperfect competition, incomplete markets, externalities, and the presence of public goods. The welfare state, whether through charitable redistribution or regulation that favors smaller players, is motivated by reciprocal altruism.
Unlike in Europe, Christian and Social democracy have not played a major role in shaping welfare policy. Entitlement programs in the U.S. were virtually non-existent until the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the implementation of the New Deal programs in response to the Great Depression. Between 1932 and 1981, modern American liberalism dominated U.S. economic policy and the entitlements grew along with American middle class wealth.
The welfare system in the United States began in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. After the Great Society legislation of the 1960s, for the first time a person who was not elderly or disabled could receive need-based aid from the federal government.[dubious ] Aid could include general welfare payments, health care through Medicaid, food stamps, special payments for pregnant women and young mothers, and federal and state housing benefits. In 1968, 4.1% of families were headed by a woman receiving welfare assistance; by 1980, the percentage increased to 10%. In the 1970s, California was the U.S. state with the most generous welfare system. Virtually all food stamp costs are paid by the federal government. In 2008, 28.7 percent of the households headed by single women were considered poor.
Before the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, welfare assistance was "once considered an open-ended right," but welfare reform converted it "into a finite program built to provide short-term cash assistance and steer people quickly into jobs." Prior to reform, states were given "limitless" money by the federal government, increasing per family on welfare, under the 60-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. This gave states no incentive to direct welfare funds to the neediest recipients or to encourage individuals to go off welfare benefits (the state lost federal money when someone left the system). Nationwide, one child in seven received AFDC funds, which mostly went to single mothers.
In 1996, under the Bill Clinton administration, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which gave more control of the welfare system to the states though there are basic requirements the states need to meet with regards to welfare services. Still, most states offer basic assistance, such as health care, food stamps, child care assistance, unemployment, cash aid, and housing assistance. After reforms, which President Clinton said would "end welfare as we know it," amounts from the federal government were given out in a flat rate per state based on population. Each state must meet certain criteria to ensure recipients are being encouraged to work themselves out of welfare. The new program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It encourages states to require some sort of employment search in exchange for providing funds to individuals, and imposes a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance. The bill restricts welfare from most legal immigrants and increased financial assistance for child care. The federal government also maintains an emergency $2 billion TANF fund to assist states that may have rising unemployment.
Following these changes, millions of people left the welfare rolls (a 60% drop overall), employment rose, and the child poverty rate was reduced. A 2007 Congressional Budget Office study found that incomes in affected families rose by 35%. The reforms were "widely applauded" after "bitter protest." The Times called the reform "one of the few undisputed triumphs of American government in the past 20 years." However, critics of the reforms sometimes point out that the massive decrease of people on the welfare rolls during the 1990s wasn't due to a rise in actual gainful employment in this population, but rather, was due almost exclusively to their offloading into workfare, giving them a different classification than classic welfare recipient. The late 1990s were also considered an unusually strong economic time, and critics voiced their concern about what would happen in an economic downturn.
In a 2011 article, Forbes reported, "The best estimate of the cost of the 185 federal means tested welfare programs for 2010 for the federal government alone is nearly $700 billion, up a third since 2008, according to the Heritage Foundation. Counting state spending, total welfare spending for 2010 reached nearly $900 billion, up nearly one-fourth since 2008 (24.3%)".
Aspects of the program vary in different states. Michigan, for example, requires recipients to spend a month in a job search program before benefits can begin. Saying that it is "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction", Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Welfare Drug-Screen Measure which requires welfare applicants to undergo drug screening. The law went into effect on July 1, 2011. It was later revoked by a Federal Judge.
National Review editorialized that the Economic Stimulus Act of 2009 will reverse the welfare-to-work provisions that Bill Clinton signed in the 1990s, and will again base federal grants to states on the number of people signed up for welfare rather than at a flat rate. One of the experts who worked on the 1996 bill said that the provisions would lead to the largest one-year increase in welfare spending in American history. The House bill provides $4 billion to pay 80% of states' welfare caseloads. Although each state received $16.5 billion annually from the federal government as welfare rolls dropped, they spent the rest of the block grant on other types of assistance rather than saving it for worse economic times.
Eligibility for welfare depends on a variety of factors, including gross and net income, family size, and other circumstances like pregnancy, homelessness, unemployment, and medical conditions.
Welfare has come to be associated with poverty. Additionally, blacks have overwhelmingly dominated images of poverty over the last few decades. As Martin Gilens, assistant professor of Political Science at Yale University, states, "white Americans with the most exaggerated misunderstandings of the racial composition of the poor are the most likely to oppose welfare". This perception possibly perpetuates negative racial stereotypes and could increase Americans’ opposition and racialization of welfare policies.
In FY 2009, African-American families comprised 33.3% of TANF families, white families comprised 31.2%, and 28.8% were Hispanic. Since the implementation of TANF, the percentages of black and Hispanic families have increased, while the percentage of white families has decreased. In 1992, blacks represented 37% of those on welfare; by 2002, this number increased slightly to 38%. In that same time period, the percentage of Hispanics rose from 18% to 25%. On the other hand, the percentage of welfare recipients who were white decreased from 39% to 32% in that same time frame.
1880s–1890s: Attempts were made to move poor people from work yards to poor houses if they were in search of relief funds.
1893–1894: Attempts were made at the first unemployment payments, but were unsuccessful due to the 1893–1894 recession.
1932: The Great Depression had gotten worse and the first attempts to fund relief failed. The "Emergency Relief Act", which gave local governments $300 million, was passed into law.
1935: The Social Security Act was passed on June 17, 1935. The bill included direct relief (cash, food stamps, etc.) and changes for unemployment insurance.
1940: Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) was established.
1996: Passed under Clinton, the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" becomes law.
The Social Security program mainly refers to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, and possibly the unemployment insurance program. Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB), also known as Old-age Insurance Benefits, are a form of social insurance payments made by the U.S. Social Security Administration paid based upon the attainment old age (62 or older).
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD or SSDI) is a federal insurance program that provides income supplements to people who are restricted in their ability to be employed because of a notable disability.
Unemployment insurance, also known as unemployment compensation, provides for money from the United States and the state by a worker who has become unemployed through no fault of their own.
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides stipends to low-income people who are either aged (65 or older), blind, or disabled.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash assistance to indigent American families with dependent children.
Health care in the United States is provided by many separate legal entities. Health care facilities are largely owned and operated by the private sector. Health insurance in the United States is now primarily provided by the government in the public sector, with 60-65% of healthcare provision and spending coming from programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Veterans Health Administration.
Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government, providing health insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over; to those who are under 65 and are permanently physically disabled or who have a congenital physical disability; or to those who meet other special criteria like the End Stage Reneal Disease program (ESRD). Medicare in the United States somewhat resembles a single-payer health care system but is not. Before Medicare, only 51% of people aged 65 and older had health care coverage, and nearly 30% lived below the federal poverty level.
Medicaid is a health program for certain people and families with low incomes and resources. It is a means-tested program that is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, and is managed by the states. People served by Medicaid are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, including low-income adults, their children, and people with certain disabilities. Poverty alone does not necessarily qualify someone for Medicaid. Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services for people with limited income in the United States.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a program administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. The program was designed to cover uninsured children in families with incomes that are modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid.
The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Services Block Grant (or ADMS Block Grant) is a federal assistance block grant given by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Per capita spending on tertiary education is among the highest in the world. Public education is managed by individual states, municipalities and regional school districts. As in all developed countries, primary and secondary education is free, universal and mandatory. Parents do have the option of home-schooling their children, though some states, such as California (until a 2008 legal ruling overturned this requirement), require parents to obtain teaching credentials before doing so. Experimental programs give lower-income parents the option of using government issued vouchers to send their kids to private rather than public schools in some states/regions.
As of 2007, more than 80% of all primary and secondary students were enrolled in public schools, including 75% of those from households with incomes in the top 5%. Public schools commonly offer after-school programs and the government subsidizes private after school programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club. While pre-school education is subsidized as well, through programs such as Head Start, many Americans still find themselves unable to take advantage of them. Some education critics have therefore proposed creating a comprehensive transfer system to make pre-school education universal, pointing out that the financial returns alone would compensate for the cost.
Tertiary education is not free, but is subsidized by individual states and the federal government. Students may attend public institutions or private institutions. Some of the costs at public institutions is carried by the state.
The government also provides grants, scholarships and subsidized loans to most students. Those who do not qualify for any type of aid, can obtain a government guaranteed loan and tuition can often be deducted from the federal income tax. Despite subsidized attendance cost at public institutions and tax deductions, however, tuition costs have risen at three times the rate of median household income since 1982. In fear that many future Americans might be excluded from tertiary education, progressive Democrats have proposed increasing financial aid and subsidizing an increased share of attendance costs. Some Democratic politicians and political groups have also proposed to make public tertiary education free of charge, i.e. subsidizing 100% of attendance cost.
In the U.S., financial assistance for food purchasing for low- and no-income people is provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the Food Stamp Program. This is a federal aid program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but benefits are distributed by the individual U.S. states. It is historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. To be eligible for food stamps, the recipients must have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, and also own few assets. Since the economic downturn began in 2008, the use of food stamps has increased.
Conservative commentators have argued that there is fraudulent use of the food stamp program, including selling food stamps for money and individuals applying more than once for assistance, leading to a greater burden for taxpayers. According to The Heritage Foundation, $2.5 billion is spent on improper use of food stamps. Reforms of the program have been suggested, including the requirement that able-bodied, non-elderly applicants for food stamps demonstrate that they are working or looking for work.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a child nutrition program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five. The eligibility requirement is a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, but if a person participates in other benefit programs, or has family members who participate in the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, they automatically meet the eligibility requirements.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a type of United States Federal assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to States in order to provide a daily subsidized food service for an estimated 3.2 million children and 112,000 elderly or mentally or physically impaired adults in non-residential, day-care settings.