If you listen to some legislators around the country whowant to drug test welfare recipients, the unemployed and anyone seekinggovernment assistance, you might wonder where the growing hostility andopposition to government aid comes from. You might question if opponentsdisagree with the policy or the people.
The welfare system in the United States began in the 1930sduring the Great Depression. The expanded legislation in the 1960s includedthose who were neither elderly nor disabled. Recipients were eligible toreceive welfare payments, Medicaid, food stamps, special stipends for pregnantwomen and young mothers and in some cases subsidized housing. Because womenheaded so many poor households in the 60’s, the number of families on welfareincreased from 4.1% to 10% by 1980.
During the Clintonadministration the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity ReconciliationAct (PRWORA) gave control of welfare financial assistance to the states. Thereis significant statistical data that suggest there are racial disparities inthe welfare system. While the issue of the importance of welfare reform can bedebated for years to come the data seems clear. Martin Gilens’ wrote a booktitled, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy, which surmises that the animosity and negative feelings aboutwelfare have a direct link to a perception that welfare is a program forAfrican Americans and the questionably poor.
So when I heard Georgia State Rep. Jason Spencer (R -Woodbine) who introduced legislation requiring drug tests for TemporaryAssistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants say, “Georgia taxpayershave a vested interest in making sure that their hard-earned tax dollars arenot being used to subsidize drug addiction.” I was reminded of the originalintent and purpose of government assistance. And I was also reminded of themisconceptions and misguided myths that underscore the overt disdain for thepoor. A similar law in Florida was suspended by a Federal District Judge nodoubt because the research results confirmed that only two percent of thosetested were found to have any traces of drugs in their system.
Welfare was designed to promote self-sufficiency and enforcea desire to work and earn a living wage. During a recession where theunemployment rate has been as high as 10%, earning a living wage has been achallenging undertaking for many poor families.
During this recession, which only parallels the Great Depression,it seems worth noting that politicians using rhetoric instead of research toaddress public policy would be better served by remembering our history insteadof waging war against the poor.
Blogging While Blue