One thing that has surprised me the most as I have been studying social work has been what a patchwork system we have to help people. When I had heard "the Welfare system" before my classes I had always imagined, well, a system. A complete end-to-end program which was in itself equipped to help whomever with any problem, from food insecurity to unstable housing, to mental health concerns, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I thought that the "Welfare system" was equipped to handle a person with multiple needs. As you can imagine, if you are struggling to pay rent, buying groceries can't be going to well either. People often have more than one problem. What has become quite the realization is the fact that we do not have such a system.
Instead, it is a mess of some government aid, non-governmental social services, the government "contracting" out to other non-government agencies, plus churches, and people acting neighborly. And as much as I would love to embrace the mess, the sad truth is, many people fall through the cracks because of this patchwork system. But the system is how it is for a reason, and I think that comes from some misconceptions about welfare, some misconceptions I had myself until studying it.
So for one thing, what most people refer to as "welfare" is actually only the TANF program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. As in, TANF is the program which provides families with direct cash assistance. But it isn't quite so simple. TANF became what it is in 1996 when President Clinton signed a bill reforming welfare, leading to a variety of changes, '"Most of the money went directly to cash benefit for families," says Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Now states can spend in all kinds of ways," including job programmes and childcare, but also transfers to other state programmes, like foster care payments and child protection services.' Also, as the name implies, TANF is temporary, and "there are now also stricter requirements about what percent of aid recipients needed to be involved in some sort of work activity" which does not include getting a college degree, although some short-term training count.
When it comes to, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (you might know it as food stamps). Its use during recessions shows that "a $1 increase in SNAP benefits ... is estimated to produce an additional $1.70 in economic activity." Although the list of restricted items is too much in my opinion, restricted items being "Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco Any nonfood items, such as: pet foods ,soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines, food that will be eaten in the store, Hot foods." Hot foods even including a rotisserie chicken you can buy at Jewel, a meal I know my family always found convenient on days both my parents worked, and they needed to feed their 3 kids something for dinner. And notice how it said medication isn't covered? Well for that you need Medicaid, specifically plan D, which hopefully you enrolled in when you first eligible, otherwise, you have to pay a late fee - keep in mind this is a program for people in poverty, and it's charging people a late fee.
All of that isn't including going to a township for rent help, and trying to find affordable childcare. Every new problem involves going to a new agency to fill out another form and needing to jump through whatever hoop they have as an eligibility requirement. It makes you wonder if it would be better just to take all the money spent on this and give it to families below a certain income directly. But whatever the solution, no one can look at this and think it's a system which is working as effectively as it can to provide the best support to families. Something must change.