Welfare in the United States commonly refers to the federal government welfare programs that have been put in place to assist the unemployed or underemployed. Help is extended to the poor through a variety of government welfare programs that include Medicaid, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
The history of welfare in the U.S. started long before the government welfare programs we know were created. In the early days of the United States, the colonies imported the British Poor Laws. These laws made a distinction between those who were unable to work due to their age or physical health and those who were able-bodied but unemployed. The former group was assisted with cash or alternative forms of help from the government. The latter group was given public service employment in workhouses.
Throughout the 1800’s welfare history continued when there were attempts to reform how the government dealt with the poor. Some changes tried to help the poor move to work rather than continuing to need assistance. Social casework, consisting of caseworkers visiting the poor and training them in morals and a work ethic was advocated by reformers in the 1880s and 1890s.
Prior to the Great Depression, the United States Congress supported various programs to assist the poor. One of these, a Civil War Pension Program was passed in 1862 and provided aid to Civil War Veterans and their families.
When the Great Depression hit, many families suffered. It is estimated that one-fourth of the labor force was unemployed during the worst part of the depression. With many families suffering financial difficulties, the government stepped in to solve the problem and that is where the history of welfare as we know it really began.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. The act, which was amended in 1939, established a number of programs designed to provide aid to various segments of the population. Unemployment compensation and AFDC (originally Aid to Dependent Children) are two of the programs that still exist today.
A number of government agencies were created to oversee the welfare programs. Some of the agencies that deal with welfare in the United States are the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Education.
Welfare history continued to be made in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Under the act, the federal government gives annual lump sums to the states to use to assist the poor. In turn the states must adhere to certain criteria to ensure that those receiving aid are being encouraged to move from welfare to work. Though some have criticized the program, many acknowledge it has been successful.
Those who seek welfare information can find such information on the Internet or by looking under United States Government in their local phone book. Programs are available to those who qualify to provide welfare help in the areas of health, housing, tax relief, and cash assistance.