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This week we are looking at a variety of social policy issues,

This week we are looking at a variety of social policy issues, but will specifically address poverty in our discussion.

(1) What factors contribute to poverty in the United States?

(2) Are existing welfare policies effective in combating poverty?  Why or why not?

(3) What policy reforms would you recommend?

As you present your argument, please address issues of prevention, education and access to social services as it relates to welfare policies.  You should also incorporate information about welfare reform under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

Remember to incorporate key terms/concepts from your required readings


Entitlements are government benefits with set eligibility criteria, namely income, retirement, disability,


unemployment, and so on. Nearly one-third of the US population is entitled to some form of a


government benefit. Approximately 60 percent of the federal budget is set aside for entitlements with


$888 billion in Social Security benefits estimated to be paid in 2015 along with $836 billion in Medicare,


Medicaid, Children?s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Affordable Care Act marketplace subsidies





Social Security was formed in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, a series of


programs designed to provide relief, recovery, and reform after the Great Depression. Old-Age, Survivors,


and Disability Insurance (OASDI) is an insurance program that all working individuals pay into via payroll


taxes (the employer pays 6.2 percent and the employee pays 4.2 percent of the first $106,800 of earned


income). In the event of the death of a head of household, permanent disability, or retiring in old age,


one is entitled to collect benefits. The benefit amount is is calculated averaging the thirty-five highest


years of income. However, the maximum monthly benefit you can collect is $ 2,663 in 2015.



The second part of Social Security is unemployment compensation. State payroll taxes pay for benefits if


one loses a job. Each state has its own guidelines about how long unemployment can be collected and


under what conditions. The original intent was for social security payments to go into a trust fund with


the expectation that the fund would build up over time as more young workers made contributions. This


fund would also earn interest, therefore creating a large pool from which retirees can draw their





Unfortunately, the system is now imbalanced. Current workers are not paying into a system for


themselves or their children, but rather providing the cash to immediately pay out benefits to their


grandparents and parents. This is often referred to as a ?pay as you go? system. When the system was


first established, ten workers paid into the social security trust fund for every individual who was


receiving benefits. The expectation was that the fund would build up with more contributors than


takers, as well as earn interest. With lower birth rates and longer life expectancies, there are more


people receiving social security benefits and a current ratio of only three workers for each beneficiary.



This system is unsustainable with the aging baby-boomer generation approaching retirement. Therefore,


there are several policy proposals on the table to reform the system, including limiting benefits, raising


the retirement age, privatizing the system, or increasing payroll taxes to add more cash into the system.


Originally, workers paid 3% of their income towards Social Security. Now workers pay 15.3% towards


Social Security; the second largest source of federal revenue.



Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal cash assistance program to help individuals pay for food,


shelter, and clothing. While the Social Security Administration manages this program, the funds do not


come from the social security trust, and eligibility criteria differ between the OASDI and SSI.



Medicaid is a health program for low-income adults, children, and individuals with disabilities. While


created under amendments to the Social Security Act, the program is administered and eligibility


standards are set at a state level. Many Medicaid recipients are enrolled in private health plans with


premiums paid for by the state (commonly referred to as managed care). Both medical and dental care is


provided as a Medicaid benefit. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010


extended Medicaid benefits to people with income up to 133 percent above the poverty line, including


adults without any dependents.



Medicare is a national medical insurance plan for disabled individuals and those over the age of sixtyfive. Medicare offers several options to recipients for managed care or private health plans as well as


outpatient prescription drug coverage. Medicare currently covers approximately forty million elderly





Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and provides lowincome families with financial support to purchase food. The program is administered at a federal level


by the Department of Agriculture, though individual States take the lead in the actual distribution of


benefits. In 2015, 45 million Americans were receiving assistance through SNAP, averaging around $250


per month in benefits per household. Recipients use debit cards (electronic benefit transfers, or EBT) to


make purchases. The program has been subject to several reforms in order to reduce fraud and abuse.



Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is broadly referred to as welfare. This program provides


cash assistance to low-income families with children through the Department of Health and Human


Services. TANF was created in 1996 under the Bill Clinton administration to encourage people to move


into the workforce so they no longer have to rely on assistance. A family can receive a maximum of sixty


months of benefits in a lifetime. Recipients must find work as soon as possible and no later than two


years after first receiving assistance; parents must participate in work activities (education and job


training) at least thirty hours per week.



Combating Poverty



Approximately forty-six million Americans live in poverty. More than thirty states have reported slight


increases in poverty locally, with no states having reported a decline in poverty rates over the past five


years. Poverty rates have gone up for two demographic groups over the past two years ? people with a



bachelor?s degree or more, and married-couple families. The poverty rate for children sits at over 20





The US Census Bureau?s process for measuring poverty has come under some scrutiny, but it is


undeniable that the recent economic slump hit Americans hard and the country is slowly recovering, but


in an uneven manner across the states.



The federal government has established an annual income level to distinguish between those who live in


poverty and those who do not. In order for one to be considered poor (under 2015 guidelines), an


individual must make less than $11,770 (the amount increases for those living in Alaska or Hawaii due to


cost of living differences). For each additional person in your family you add $4,160 to the annual


income. For example, a couple must earn less than $15,930, a family of three must earn less than


$20,090, and so forth.



To put this in perspective, an employee who works forty hours a week for fifty weeks out of the year will


earn $14,500 before taxes at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Current estimates


are that approximately 14 percent of Americans are living in poverty. As many as seventy million more


Americans live just above the poverty level putting them at risk of falling into poverty with any


unexpected life change (e.g., death of a spouse or parent, divorce, layoffs, or illness). At least 54 percent


of Americans have lived at least one year of their life in poverty.



The reasons behind poverty are complex, but generally include:


Low productivity?workers don't have the right knowledge, skills, training, or work habits to be


appealing to employers;


Economic stagnation?either high unemployment or no demand for workers;


Discrimination?blacks earn less than whites even at the same educational level;


A culture of poverty?learned traits of indifference, alienation, or apathy, and


Disintegrating family structure?unmarried women and children are most vulnerable to falling below the


poverty line.


Do our current social policies address the causes of poverty? In the mid to late 1990s, the United States


saw some unprecedented economic growth. During this time, President Clinton signed into law the


Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. This put in place a


series of reforms including requiring recipients to begin working within two years of receiving benefits


(actively pursuing employment or education is also a requirement) and limiting federal benefits to no


more than five years over a lifetime. The reforms were intended to address low productivity and


confront a culture of poverty.



The number of welfare recipients decreased by approximately 50 percent after PRWORA was passed and


some considered the law a success. However, others felt that smaller welfare rolls were not a good


indicator of success. Some felt that recipients were pushed into other assistance programs (government


and charity programs) or, even worse, that families with young children were now homeless and


completely unaccounted for.



This brings us back to a key question when we measure policy success. It is very easy to create simple


measures like caseload and to track these metrics to determine if a government policy is successful. Is


the goal of welfare to provide transitional assistance? Or, is the goal to reduce poverty levels across the


United States? If we seek to achieve the latter, then is tracking the number of welfare cases a true


measure of the success of our poverty reduction efforts? Does the outcome (reducing poverty itself, not


program dependence) matter, not just the output?



One type of policy reform that social welfare has undergone is providing customized assistance and


giving states more flexibility to design their own public assistance programs. At a local level, some states


have recently asked for reprieves on PRWORA requirements. For example, states would like to be able to


provide assistance through the TANF program to families even if the adults in the family have not been


able to find work for two years. The last economic downturn left even greater numbers of Americans


unemployed for extended periods of time. Some applaud states for their efforts in advocating for their


residents in poverty. Others criticize states for essentially dismantling key provisions of PRWORA,


returning our welfare program back to its original entitlement status. Moreover, these critics say that


states are more than willing to get the poor back on federal assistance because it isn?t the states? money,


and it will lessen the financial burden on state-funded programs.



Video Icon



Watch - Poverty Rates Surge in American Suburbs (from PBS News Hour)



Video features Elizabeth Kneebone, author of your eReserve reading, &quot;The Suburbanization of Poverty&quot;



Education Policies



The role of the federal government in education continues to expand, though public education remains


funded at a local level.



Impact Aid provides funds to districts to compensate them for federally connected children who attend


school in their area. Federally connected children include military dependents and anyone who lives on


Indian reservations or other federally subsidized housing. Since school districts are funded by local


property taxes, they incur extra costs when they serve children whose parents are not paying property


taxes because they are living or working on federal lands. Approximately $1.3 billion in impact aid was


provided to schools in 2012 with some districts relying heavily on the aid to provide for their operating


budget. Special funds are also given to school districts to help offset the cost of educating children with


disabilities who are federally connected. Furthermore, the Department of Defense provides additional


supplemental payments to districts that serve a large number of military dependents. Schools can use


the aid to pay for infrastructure and school programs.



Head Start is a federal program that helps prepare children from low-income families to start school at


age five. Head Start programs focus on developing language and literary skills, physical health, and social


and emotional development. Services begin as early as infancy but are primarily focused on preschool


age children. Since the program?s inception in 1965, more than thirty million children and families have


graduated from Head Start.



Block Grants are a series of grants provided by the federal government to fund program areas (such as


preschool education and job training) for state and local governments. A block grant essentially gives


federal funds to a state for implementation instead of an individual family coming directly to the federal


government for aid. However, block grants also tend to give congress the power to add restrictions and


can be used as tools for gaining political favor at a state level where an influx of financial resources would


be good news during election time.



The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Johnson


and supports school districts that serve the poorest of students. The law has since been amended to add


in performance standards for local school districts, provide opportunities for professional development


of teachers, funding for the development of instructional materials, and resources to promote parental


involvement in education.



The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was a continuation of ESEA. The law has strict requirements


for testing and accountability. Students are tested in reading and math each year from grades 3 to 8 and


once between grades 10 and 12. Students are also tested in science once between grades 3 and 5, 6 and


8, and 10 and 12. Test results are publicly reported and data is aggregated to track the performance of


high-risk categories such as those from low-income families, certain ethnic groups, and students with


disabilities. Schools must ensure that students achieve certain standards in proficiency. Schools that do


not progress and achieve higher proficiency rates must create a plan of action and devote a portion of


federal funding to teacher professional development. Those that continue to fail may undergo


restructuring, including converting to a charter school or a private management company. The district


must also offer children the option of transferring to higher performing schools if their school is under


review for performance failures. Districts must spend up to 20 percent of federal funding on school


choice and assisting students who attend schools that are failing. In total, NCLB also authorizes forty-five


programs at a cost of $14.3 billion in Title 1 federal grants for fiscal year 2014.



In an effort to ensure consistency in testing and evaluation, the Common Core State Standards were


developed in 2009 and implemented in 2010. Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia have


adopted these standards. The standards focus on English Language Arts and Math. States were given an


incentive to adopt these standards, as participation would result in being eligible for Race to the Top


funding. Race to the Top was central to the Obama Administrations education agenda ? states must


compete for federal grants. Criteria for the Race to the Top grants include: teacher and administrator


merit pay being tied to student achievement (as measured by test scores), adopting national standards


for assessment (ie. Common Core), turning around failing schools, building systems that can track


student progress K-12, and loosening legal requirements for charter schools.



Similar challenges exist with education reform due to strong interest groups (parents, teachers, and


unions) on all sides. Education is often expected to be the means to address all the problems of society


such as poverty, crime, the disintegrating family structure, and economic viability of the US population.


We spend heavily in our public education system, yet there is little direct evidence that simply increasing


funding for schools improves the educational performance of students.



Conflicts Over Free Choice and Equal Access in Education



Parental involvement in education is key. Research shows that when parents are actively involved in


their children?s education choices, children perform better at school. Providing choices such as charter


schools, magnet schools and educational vouchers are designed to encourage competition for students


and funding, which should create a push for excellence.



Charter schools can be formed by a coalition of community members (like parents and teachers). These


schools will approach a local school board with a plan for a school with innovative teaching methods. If


approved, the charter must operate within specific standards and meet all state requirements, but has


more flexibility in how students are taught. Magnet schools are another unique approach, where there


is an emphasis on a specific subject area (performing arts, math and science, vocational training). They


are often found in inner-city areas where this specialized instruction could not be found in traditional


public schools. Finally, educational vouchers provide funding for a student to use at either a public or


private school. This allows for low-income students to attend better performing schools, regardless of


their ability to pay.



Increasing parental choice does not come without controversy. Opponents argue that giving parents the


ability to move their children from underperforming schools will exacerbate issues further. Schools will


be branded inferior and the only students who remain will be those who are struggling academically and


have limited parental support. There are also constitutional concerns about using public funds to send


children to private, religiously affiliated schools (a violation of the 1st amendment).



Finally, the way that education funding is structured in the United States inherently leads to challenges


over equality. Local property taxes fund schools. In states with higher property values and higher tax


rates, schools are better funded. The disparity across the United States is significant, with some states


spending twice as much as others on the education of each child. Poor communities with low property


rates will have schools with less funding. This contributes to a cycle of poverty. The federal government


provides a significant amount of funding to offset these financial disparities, but performance still lags in


inner-city and rural schools with lower property values.




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