The Family Support Act of 1988
Welfare reform has reappeared with disappointing regularity atop the American political agenda. The problem has been that nothing seemed to work. By the 1980, the poverty rate was only slightly lower than at the start of the War on Poverty. The welfare caseload had grown by millions and, by 1988, the AFDC program alone was costing the federal government $8.1 billion a year. We have seen President Nixon's failed effort at reform. In 1977 Jimmy Carter offered yet another solution, only to see it, too, go down to defeat. In 1981– 1982 Ronald Reagan attempted to change the welfare system through restricting eligibility. One half of a million families were taken off the AFDC rolls, and another one million lost their eligibility for food stamps. He also eliminated several old War on Poverty programs.
Reagan's changes neither solved the problem, nor removed the issue from the agenda. By 1986, the president was again highlighting welfare reform in his state of the union address. He told the Congress that “we must revise or replace programs enacted in the name of compassion that degrade the moral worth of work, encourage family breakups, and drive entire communities into a bleak and heartless dependency.”1 He announced he was ordering the White House Domestic Council to develop a new welfare strategy. He repeated the message the following year.
Reagan's renewed interest reflected a heightened debate over the effect of America's welfare system on its recipients. Reagan's emphasis on welfare “dependency” echoed that debate. There was a growing consensus that, for at least some of its recipients, the Amer-