Aid to Families with Dependent
Children and the Emergence of
Modern Welfare: The Public
Welfare Amendments of 1962
In 1992, Bill Clinton made the pledge to “end welfare as we know it” a central theme in his successful presidential campaign. By that time “welfare” had become one of the most reviled words in American politics. But what was “welfare as we know it,” and where did it come from? The passage of the Public Welfare Amendments of 1962 was the key moment in creating the modern American welfare system. The act embodied changes in rhetoric and direction that would underpin the growth and development of federal public assistance policy until the Clinton presidency 30 years later.
The framers of Social Security believed that the act of 1935, along with its later extensions, would largely solve the problem of poverty in America. The set of guarantees given to Americans, including a livable pension, disability protection, and benefits for spouses and surviving children, should allow nearly everyone, in Roosevelt's words, to live in “freedom from want.” The Social Security Act, however, had included programs for those Americans who, it was believed, would still need extra help, such as the blind. The two biggest programs were the Old-Age Assistance (OAA) program and the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program. These programs were to be set up and managed by the states. The federal government would help by providing matching grants for financing. They are also “means-tested programs.” That is, eligibility to receive benefits under them is restricted to Americans with low incomes. This is unlike the Old Age, Survivor, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, which is federally run, and is an “entitlement.” Every American may qualify to receive benefits under it.