Academic journal article Policy Review

What Will Happen to the Children? Who Will Step in When Welfare Is Abolished

Academic journal article Policy Review

What Will Happen to the Children? Who Will Step in When Welfare Is Abolished

Article excerpt

The new Republican Congress has promised to put welfare reform at the top of the agenda when it convenes in January. Conservatives are championing radical change: the end of the welfare state. Specifically, conservatives are proposing to abolish most welfare payments, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC), food stamps, and federal housing subsidies.

Even if conservatives had not seized Congress by promising to rein in the government, welfare reform would be unavoidable. Federal and state governments spent more than $320 billion on means-tested welfare in 1993; by 1998, the welfare tab will cost on average nearly $5,000 for every taxpaying household. But those who focus only on cost cutting misunderstand the primary goal of conservative reforms; To wipe out the scourge of illegitimacy in the United States.

Policy Review asked a cross-section of social service veterans, all in the private sector, to discuss the effects of reducing welfare assistance. Specifically, we asked these experts what would happen if the government stopped adding people to the welfare rolls: Those already on welfare could continue to receive benefits, but no one else could apply for AFDC, food stamps, or housing assistance.

VERNE BARRY

Conservatives and other limited-government advocates, always eager to point out the dangers of welfare, too often fall into the trap of springing forth with "alternatives" to the support system that welfare has come to represent. These alternatives sometimes fail to address the root causes of our welfare culture.

Conservatives are correct in pointing to the multi-generational families of welfare recipients as evidence that welfare makes people think of themselves as entitled to the handout. And then it's a small leap to become convinced you need it. But the strength of the case breaks down (mainly among "fiscal" conservatives) when the talk shifts to how social services are better administered by the private sector. Churches and charities, the argument goes, can better deliver these services because they are local, accountable to their communities, and in a better position to understand the unique problems of their neighborhoods.

Maybe so, but hold on a second. Softening the argument for welfare cuts by assuring the other side that churches and charities will pick up the slack can easily miss the point of welfare reform. The biggest problem with welfare is not that it costs taxpayers too much money, although that is surely a problem, but rather that it clearly creates dependency and a dearth of personal responsibility. Such irresponsibility becomes a crisis when it is neighborhood- or community-wide, as so often has happened in our nation's inner cities.

If all government welfare ended tomorrow and churches and charities picked up the slack 100 percent, the relief enjoyed by taxpayers would soon be tempered by the reality that the social tragedy of welfare had not changed at all. The purpose of welfare reform is not just to change who is doing the giving. It is, rather, to change the hearts and minds--indeed, the lives--of those who have never known anything else. It simply doesn't work just to help people: We must help people help themselves. Too many of the churches and charities I've seen never affect people at this deeper level.

There are other problems. Churches are in the soulsaving business, not the social service business. Even those churches who closely subscribe to the social gospel are not in a position to provide the kind of all-out social support the present welfare state has institutionalized without becoming huge and bureaucratic themselves.

Reform already has begun to happen in the world of private non-profits. The United Way, for example, is guided in each community by a "community-based board" that knows better than you do which agency should get your money. Small charities clamor to get into the powerful United Way network because there is so little money left over after each year's United Way campaign. …

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