The Disabled Welfare Program: The Welfare System and the Disabled

By Syron, Erin | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Disabled Welfare Program: The Welfare System and the Disabled


Syron, Erin, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


The disabled population in the U.S. has many needs. Many of these needs are addressed by the current welfare policy, but it needs to be examined whether or not the policy is addressing their needs to the fullest capacity. In this paper I will explore whether the current U.S. welfare policy addresses the needs of the disabled, and whether it is working in the way it was designed to.

I feel that there have been many strides made in the area of the social welfare policy in general and for the disabled in particular. However, I am not sure if all needs are thoroughly being met. In this paper, after a brief historical survey of the social welfare system as a whole, I will review public assistance, the social and rehabilitative services, and the civil rights legislation that are in place for those that are disabled. The review will include the reason that the programs were started in order to evaluate if they are fulfilling their purpose. In addition, I will attempt to determine the root causes of why the programs may or may not be fulfilling their purposes.

Historical Background

The welfare policy is designed to help those that are in need of assistance or may potentially be in need of assistance. There are several policies in place to determine who fits in those categories to receive the benefits and assistance of the welfare programs. These determinations came about as the welfare policy took shape historically. DiNitto (2000) has provided a useful historical overview of the social welfare system in the United States and the following brief account is largely based on her work.

The roots of the social welfare policy dates back to Elizabethan England. The first source of welfare was mutual aid, which meant that people had to rely on others in a time of need. When a family's crop failed it was the job of other relatives or neighbors to pitch in and help. Then, it became the duty of the church and of wealthy feudal lords to help those in need. The first laws to curb poverty were established during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in England. Changes in the societal structure led the Elizabethan government to develop its own welfare system. The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 was established to control those who were poor, unable to find a job, and those who might cause problems in society. Thus, taxes were levied in order to finance the welfare system. An important aspect of the Elizabethan Poor Law was to separate the deserving poor from the nondeserving poor--the deserving poor being defined as orphaned children and adults who were blind, physically disabled, or unemployed for reasons beyond their control. The nondeserving poor were defined as those who were vagrants or drunkards that were considered too lazy to work. Outdoor relief described assistance that was given to the deserving poor in their households, and indoor relief was given to those who were not able to care for themselves. Thus, they received assistance in institutions known as almshouses. On the other hand, the nondeserving poor were sent to workhouses, where they did hard labor for life's barest necessities (DiNitto 33). Parishes administered the aid for all of these services and decided who would receive the assistance (DiNitto 33-34).

The English colonists adopted many aspects of the Elizabethan welfare system when they settled in the U.S. One example includes the residency requirements. Warning out was one policy that forced new people who seemed not to be financially responsible in town to move to other towns. Another residency policy known as "passing on" was used to escort such people back to the town they came from. These laws were in place well into the nineteenth century. The colonists also used four different methods to help assist those in need. The first was auctioning off the poor to families who would care for them at the lowest cost. The second method was to place the sick and the poor under the supervision of a couple who would care for them at the lowest cost. …

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