Volume 23, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2003
United States Welfare Policy in the New Millennium
Catholic Perspectives on What American Society Has Learned about Low-Income Families
The welfare reform law of 1996 completely overhauled the nation's system of assistance to low-income families. The reauthorization of that law, now several months overdue because of congressional delays, presents an opportunity for religious social ethicists to evaluate the adequacy of our nation's anti-poverty efforts. This paper surveys policy developments from 1996 to 2003 and analyzes five key issues in the reauthorization debate: (1) the size and structure of welfare block grants; (2) work requirements; (3) welfare time limits, sanctions, and exemptions; (4) marriage promotion and the family cap; and (5) ancillary programs providing work supports such as food stamps, Medicaid, and child care subsidies. A variety of ethical critiques of policy proposals is offered, some of them from the perspective of Catholic social teaching. The trail of missed opportunities in welfare reform will probably continue, as American social policy fails to act upon an accurate portrayal of the challenges facing poor families today.