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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
300+ Words APA FORMAT< IN-TEXT CITATION AND REFERENCE PAGE
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.
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
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.
Watch - Poverty Rates Surge in American Suburbs (from PBS News Hour)
Video features Elizabeth Kneebone, author of your eReserve reading, "The Suburbanization of Poverty"
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.
This question was answered on: Feb 21, 2020
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