Welfare Debate

History and Debate of Welfare

There are many types of welfare systems in various countries. For example, welfare can be implemented via social organizations like religious groups, through the governments at the local and national level, and though inter-governmental agencies like the United Nations.

Welfare has a special political meaning the United States because it refers to how the poor receives financial aid. In comparison, welfare services are regarded as a universal right in other regions like Europe, where it is believed that all citizens should be able to obtain a minimal level of social support and well being. This view of social solidarity prevalent in Europe implies that their people believe that welfare should be guaranteed for both rich and poor people, regardless of social status.

In the United States, the welfare system arose during the Great Depression, in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the Great Society legislation was passed, such that for the first time, people that were neither elderly nor disabled could receive benefits from the US government. These living benefits could involve general and special payments for certain circumstances (e.g. young mothers and pregnant women), food stamps, Medicaid health care and housing benefits.

During the period, welfare was initially regarded as an open ended right. This led people to believe that states had limitless welfare funds from the federal government. As a result, states did not have any incentive to encourage people to get off welfare and were not selective in how they gave away welfare funds. However, welfare reform changed it into a finite program which was created to provide cash assistance for the short term only, so that people would eventually take up stable jobs instead.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act so individual states regained control of the welfare system. Although the federal government does not retain control of welfare, the states still have to adhere to basic requirements, for example, each state must ensure that recipients are encouraged to find adequate jobs so they do not remain in welfare.

Critics in the Welfare Debate

The welfare debate is now in full swing in the United States. The fact that numerous requirements must be in place has been criticized as being overly paternalistic and unnecessary. This is because with such a welfare function, work requirements is possible and might be an optimal solution, however, the effectiveness of such work requirements depends on the accuracy of the screening mechanism which assigns work requirements. These screening requirements are not always effective.

The welfare system has also been critiqued as a means to patch up high levels of income equalities that have been generated by the current economic systems. This applies to the US, as well as in other countries like Latin America. The social assistance programs Latin America, in particular, has been viewed as being over reliant on free trade and neo-liberal economic systems. For changes to be enacted in this type of system, reform needs to developed within the existing social structure rather than though systemic means.

Finally, many current welfare programs have been built as short-term rather than as permanent institutions. Hence, the bulk of them last for short time spans of about five years only. This is often because of the need to reflect the funding that is available. For example, Bolivia's Bonosol, is financed by proceeds due to the privatization of utilities which is an unsustainable funding source. Since such program are short lived, it is an ineffective means of trying to implement more structural changes which might be more beneficial in the long run.

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