Racial Discrimination Within the Welfare System
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated president in 1933, he acted fast to provide relief to those who were in need. On June 8, 1934, Roosevelt sent a message to congress that guaranteed a plan for social insurance as a safety net “against the hazards and vicissitudes of life.” Then, only fourteen months later, on August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social security Bill in into law (Martin and Weaver).
The Social Security Bill enabled several states to make more adequate arrangements for people over sixty-five, blind people, crippled adults and children, public health, and unemployment compensation. The act also included programs that promoted the health and welfare of children. Under this, Welfare was created.
Welfare is a government program that gives financial aid to people who can’t support themselves. Welfare is paid by tax payers’ money, and because of this, many people find the welfare system susceptible to be being taken advantage of.
Although many people think this, many facts prove that to be untrue or hypocritical. The welfare system has been discriminatory since it has been created, which in return has led to discrimination for minorities in everyday life.
During the 1930’s and 40’s racial discrimination made it almost unimaginable for blacks to get involved in programs such as Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), which would allow low income families to get financial aid to support their children. In fact, at this time the majority of single mothers using ADC were Caucasian. Due to the extreme hatred of minorities at this time in history, it was unimaginably hard for especially blacks to earn and income. So, they were taking any job they could get. Because of this, many were paid in cash, which made them unqualified for social programs such as ADC. These issues continued, and even got worse through the 50’s and 60’s (Carten).
The 50’s and 60’s was known as the time of prosperity. The economy grew by about 37% during this time. By the end of the decade, the average American family had about 30% more purchasing power than ever before (Shmoop). While life improved for whites, it was quite the opposite for blacks. Black women were particularly discriminated against in the welfare system at this time. There were different requirements and rules such as the “man in the house rule,” where workers would check to see if a man was in the house at any time of the night, and if he was, welfare benefits would be taken away. This was quite unconstitutional but allowed and accepted in the southern states. There were also requirements that the welfare recipient had to have an exceptionally clean house. If this was not followed through, welfare workers could take welfare away from the recipients (Ackerman). Because of these strict laws in the south, many single-parent black families tried to move to the north hoping for a better life, with better welfare, but that was proved to be difficult.
Housing was hard to come by because of residency requirements. Many “desirable neighborhoods” were too expensive or didn’t accept blacks at all. This resulted in pushing blacks into the slums of the north (Library of Congress). As previously stated, if the welfare recipients’ housing was not a good environment, they would not be able to continue to receive welfare benefits, and because the blacks were being pushed into the slums, some could not receive welfare checks, leaving them extremely poor and having no where to turn.
Eventually, presidents retreated from the safety net philosophy that was enforced in earlier decades. Specifically, Ronald Reagan enforced New Federalism. New Federalism is the transfer of certain powers from the federal government to the state's government. As shown above, when the welfare system was in the states' hands, it did not go well.
Regan had a philosophy that poor people were poor because of their own misfortune, they didn’t need assistance, and that they could only help themselves if they wanted to get better. Because he believed this, he made plenty of budget cuts under New Federalism.
The 1982 cuts exceeded 20% in many of the programs introduced since the 1960’s that were designed to help the unprivileged. These programs included AFDC, Food Stamps, Medicaid, education aid, Low-income Energy Assistance, and training and employment programs. It’s estimated that the typical mother on welfare who worked had a 20 to 30 percent decline in their monthly income (Danziger and Haveman). “Blacks will suffer disproportionately from the Reagan programs because a higher proportion of blacks are poorer than whites, a greater proportion will be affected by the reductions,” (Danziger and Haveman).
Then, Reagan went onto expose a woman who allegedly took advantage of the welfare system. Reagan said, “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addressees, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexistent deceased husbands. She’s got Medicaid, is getting food stamps and welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000.” Although some people believed that Reagan was using this as campaign strategy, since it wasn’t actually proven, this still reinforced black stereotypes among white people. Which then lead to discrimination, and problems within the system throughout the 90's.
During the 90's, welfare was no longer about the people. It turned into politics. In 1996, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Block Grant of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. This was known as the “welfare reform.” “Welfare reform in 1996 had little to do with poverty; it had a lot to do with racialized politics of poverty.
Conservatives declared that anything was better than the old welfare system for poor women and that their plans for tough work requirements and time-limited benefits was a policy of hope. What they were really interested in was politically exploiting the issue and painting the Democrats as defenders of ‘amoral’ black women in ghettos. Liberals rationalized welfare reform as necessary, but they also understood it to be a way of banishing race, and racialized poverty, from the political lexicon” (Brown 47). In fact, Jared Bernstein of The Washington Post claims, “It was and is about convincing a group of voters that, while you’re working hard to make ends meet, somebody’s making a bundle ripping off the system. And that somebody is an “other,” a minority or an immigrant.” So, since the welfare debate was now politically fueled, poor families, which was now mainly made up of minorities, were harshly treated and punished.
With the new welfare reform bill in place, there were new requirements in the system. Single mothers were required to get a job two years after they started getting benefits. Then, they could only receive the benefits for up to five years for the rest of their lives. Also, teenage mothers were no longer allowed to receive benefits. To add to that, “States were banned from using federally funded TANF for certain groups of immigrants and restrictions were placed on their eligibility to Medicaid, food stamps and Supplementary Social Security Income” (Carten). Because of these requirements, many people were left without the help they needed. This has caused issues within the system today.
Evidently, welfare has been a struggle for minorities since 1935. Despite the longevity, there are still issues within the system today. There is an over-representation of children of minorities within the welfare system. “In 2017, the State of California had 11,301 Black children in dependency care which was 23.8% of the total number of children in care (California Child Welfare Indicators Project, (2018). This becomes the true definition of disproportionality, when Black children only make up about 592,333 (7%) of the entire state of California’s population but make up 23.8% of the total number of children in care” (Long 1). Many believe that minority families face more disadvantages in the welfare system compared Caucasians. Disadvantages such as systematic circumstances that minorities can’t necessarily change, and this causes the disproportionate representation in the welfare system. This disproportionality is also due to the lack of cultural competency within the welfare system (Font qt. In Long 2).
For example, although a major portion of welfare recipients are of minority groups, the adults who provided social services to these children are predominantly white. The welfare system claims that for over a decade, they have been trying to raise “awareness and sensitivity.” “Additional efforts have sought to increase knowledge and understanding about the unique aspects of the history and culture of specific groups, primarily African Americans and Latino Americans. These efforts however, have not addressed culturally effective practice in a comprehensive and sustained manner, and have been inadequate” (Jackson and Brissett-Chapman 252). Furthermore, a substantial amount of minority families who live in undesirable communities are prone to constant surveillance by police or other reporters that make child welfare reports more often. This also causes social worker bias, and harsh treatment from welfare workers (Long 2).
Although the issues today are slightly different than those in the twentieth century, they still need to be solved. Ideally, cultural competence needs to be instilled into every welfare worker.