Social Worker Roles in Social Welfare and Policy
Hello everyone and welcome to Social Welfare and Policy II. I wanted to provide a brief introduction to this course and information on this textbook. After taking Social Welfare and Policy I, you should be familiar with what social work is and the history of social welfare and policy up until the early 20th century. This course will expand on your current knowledge of social welfare and policy, as well as provide new information for you to learn. This course will review the following: A social workers specific role in social welfare and policy, continued history from the 1930s to present day, how a policy is made, generalist practice skills and advocacy in social work. This textbook has been provided to you to aide your learning, containing information retrieved from various creditable resources.
Social Worker Roles in Social Welfare and Policy
What is the definition of a social problem? It is defined as any condition or behavior that has negative consequences for large numbers of people and that is generally recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed. (University of Minnesota, 2010). This definition can be viewed as both subjective and objective.
Objective view: Any condition or behavior to be considered a social problem must have a negative consequence for a large number of people. These conditions/behaviors and consequences can be heavily debated. An example of this is climate change. While many scientists say that climate change is a serious issue, fewer
than two-thirds of Americans in a 2011 poll reported believing that climate change is real and happening.
Subjective view: The above example leads into the subjective view on social problems, as there must be a perception that a condition or behavior needs to be addressed for it to be considered a social problem. While the objective view involves empirical evidence of negative consequences of a social condition or behavior, the subjective component involves a perception that the condition or behavior is indeed an issue that needs to be addressed (University of Minnesota, 2010).
Social Work in Policy Practice
The following has been retrieved from a book titled, ‘Policy Practice for Social Workers’, written by Linda K. Cummins, Katharine V. Byers, Laura Pedrick. The chapter is provided online by Pearson Higher Ed.
Policy practice is defined as using social work skills to propose and change policies in order to achieve the goal of social and economic justice. When doing policy practice, social workers apply generalist social work perspectives and skills to make changes in laws, rules, budgets, and policies and in the bodies that create those policies, whether they be local, state, or federal agencies or other decision-making bodies, in the pursuit of the social work mission of social and economic justice. The goal of policy practice in social work is to ensure social and economic justice in the social environment so that all people, regardless of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, have opportunities to achieve success for themselves and their families.
Social workers do not have to be in political office or hold positions of power in order to affect policy. Social workers and social work students have both the skills and perspectives (concepts, values, and beliefs) that are important in the policymaking process. These skills and perspectives are rooted in social work’s history and experience of working directly with people to address the challenges and needs they face in their daily lives (Cummins, 2011).
The NASW Code of Ethics, which is intended as a guide to serve those practicing social work, has different parts that are specific to social justice and policy. The following excerpt is directly from the NASW Code of Ethics:
Value: Social Justice
Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people (National Association of Social Workers, 2017).
Depression and the New Deal (1930-1948)
The onset of the Great Depression occurred after the infamous stock market crash of 1929. Although vulnerable populations were already experiencing poverty (such as children, elderly, minorities, female-headed families and people with disabilities), many middle and upper-income families first experienced poverty in America during the Great Depression. These individuals enjoyed a strong economy of the 1920s, only to experience total shock after the start of The Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1933, unemployment in the United States jumped from three percent to twenty-five percent. In some major cities, unemployment rose to almost eighty percent (8 out of 10 workers were unemployed!) (Marx, 2020).
Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) was elected in 1932 with the anticipation that he would be either the worst or greatest president in American History, given the current state of the economy. Many Americans ideology of “poor people” changed – as many people who once looked down on poverty were now standing in line for relief themselves. The private, non-profit organizations that existed at this time were extremely overwhelmed and unable to meet the demand of requests for aide. The former American belief, expressed by President Franklin Pierce to Dorothea Fix, was that the federal government should not be involved in provided relief to the poor. However, due to the size of this national crisis, a national solution was very much needed (Marx, 2020).
The New Deal
To address the dire need throughout the nation, FDR took immediate action by establishing several federal agencies and programs to create job opportunities and provide relief. One major program was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which was created by the Federal Emergency Relief Act in 1932. This program’s primary responsibility was managing the effort to distribute federal relief funds to individual states (Marx, 2020)
FDR’s New Deal led to many other policies new creation or adjustments made: Prohibition came to an end; The Homeowners Loan Act, Workers Progress Administration (WPA); National Labor Relations Act; The Social Security Act of 1935. Although many efforts were made on behalf on the New Deal with the FDR
administration, World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor is what ultimately ended the Great Depression in America (History.com editors, 2020).
Prior to The Great Depression and New Deal era, the overall profession of social worker shunned public relief, as many social workers were employed in private agencies. This era had a profound impact on the social work profession. Thousands of social workers were cast in new roles of public welfare. Many social workers took on new roles as administrative and supervisors in the new, public programs created. Henceforth, public welfare – specifically supervision, administration and policy work, would forever become an integral part of the social work profession (GISW, 2020).
Social Security Act of 1935
The Social Security act passed in the United States on August 14, 1935. This marked a new stage in the acceptance of the Federal Government of responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens. This act created a national contribution for old-age retirement annuity for all workers in industry and commerce. Employers and their employees started their contributions in 1937. Benefits were payable to individuals in the beginning of 1940. By the time payments had begun, this system was expanded to provide survivor benefits and benefits for dependents of retired workers. In 1950, amendments were made to increase benefit amounts for elderly and survivors. This act also laid the basis for a nation-wide system of unemployment insurance. By 1937, all 50 states had adopted unemployment insurance laws and by 1939, all were paying unemployment benefits. The cost of these programs was (and currently are) financed by federal grants to the states. Along with the benefits already discussed, the Social Security Act also provided Federal grants to each state to support general public health programs. Some states and local government had existing public health programs in the beginning of the 1930s, however many areas of the country had only limited services and many were without any organized health protection. (Merriam, n.d.).
Social Welfare in the 1950s-1970.
Dissatisfaction and criticism of social welfare began in the 1950s, revolving around the federal aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Critics believed that the program had made welfare a way of life for many people, rather than its intent on short-term assistance. The 1950s is the first decade that began social welfare reform.
During the 1950s and 60s, social welfare reform began with states attempting to impose residency requirements on any individual applying for assistance, as well as removing illegitimate children from the welfare programs. Many states passed a rule referred to as “Man in the House”, which ultimately stopped individuals
from receiving benefits when a man was present in the home. However, during the late 1960s, these laws were removed on the grounds that the equal protection clause of the fourteen amendment of the US Constitution, requiring the government to treat all persons in similar situations equally.
After the election of President Lyndon B Johnson in the 1960s, the administration declared a “war on poverty”, with multiple programs provided to citizens in need: Head Start, the Job Corps, Food Stamps, Medicaid-funded education, job training, direct food assistance and direct medical assistance. During this era, although poverty declined, over four million new people signed up for the welfare programs.
When President Richard M Nixon was elected in 1968, conservative backlash began to take place against liberal policies that were created. President Nixon was the first President since FDR to offer major national welfare legislation. He introduced the 1969 Family Assistance Plan: he proposed giving needy families with children $1,600 annually, and as a work incentive, they were allowed to keep any earned income up to $4,000. The plan also required that all welfare recipients (except mothers with children under the age of 3) would be required to work. This plan was rejected by both conservatives and liberals. People with a conservative frame of mind suggested that this plan would expand public assistance, while liberals believed that the support levels were too low, and the work requirement was punitive. This proposed policy did not make it out of congress and was taken out of consideration in 1972.
The Nixon administration expanded many several social welfare programs during its time. Individual states were required to provide food stamps and Supplimental Security Income (SSI) consolidated aid for aged, blind and disabled individuals. The Earned Income Credit was also introduced as policy, providing the working poor with direct cash assistance in the form of tax credits.
“Workfare” was initiated by advocated of social welfare reform in the 1970s, with the idea that individuals receiving welfare would work off payments through public service jobs. This later developed into the concept of using education and job training to help recipients gain independence from welfare programs. By the 1980s, workfare had emerged as the future of social welfare reform (Welfare, 2003).
Social Welfare 1980s-1990s
President Ronald Reagan was elected to office in 1981. Being a harsh critic on social welfare programs, he helped secure deep cuts in AFDC spending, including the reduction of benefits to working recipients of public assistance. States were also provided with the option of requiring the majority of recipients to participate in workfare programs. During this era, social welfare programs once again were subjected to many critics. It became the belief of many that welfare hurt the poor by making them less well-off and discouraging them from working, creating welfare dependency.
During the 1980s, forty states set up “welfare-to-work” programs that provided job education and trainings. The federal Family Support Act of 1988 (a bill to replace the existing AFDC program with a new Family Support Program which emphasizes work, child support and need-based family support supplements) adopted this specific approach, directing all states to phase in welfare-to-work programs by 1990. Each state was required to implement education, job training and job placement programs for all welfare recipients. This requirement was unsuccessful, as states lacked the necessary funding that was required to match federal funds provided. By 1993, only one in five eligible welfare recipients was enrolled in training or education program.
In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was put into place. This reform created personal responsibility and work a central idea to receiving welfare. It also shifted welfare to state responsibility. State governments were provided fixed blocks of money known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), requiring individuals that received this assistance to work. This program was also limited: families were only able to be a part of the program for five years. The ultimate idea was by placing a maximum amount of money states received from the federal government for welfare, programs would shrink rather than grow over time. By the late 1990s, the United States had a strong economy, and the unemployment rate was down to four percent. This created confidence in
social welfare reform and encouraged the continued use of it (Welfare, 2003).
The United States began to experience a slower economy in the early 2000s. The attacks on September 11, 2001, further slowed down economic growth in our country. States were experiencing cash deficits, with some deficits being extremely significant. While these issues were arising, the federally funded TANF program was due to expire in October of 2002. In May of 2002, the House passed the Personal Responsibility, Work and Family Promotion Act (H.R. 4737). This bill would reauthorize TANF funding for an additional five years, as well as increase the minimum work requirement for recipients by five percent per year, so that states would have seventy percent of TANF families working full-time jobs by the year
2007. The bill also had other parts to it: it would continue to fund childcare through a block grant and would strengthen child support laws to increase money to mothers and children. It would also provide up to three-hundred million dollars each year for programs that encourage healthy and stable marriages (such as premarital education and counseling programs). Ultimately, this bill was not approved by the Senate. In September of 2002, Congress passed continuing resolutions to extend TANF through the end of March of 2003 (Welfare, 2003).
Affordable Care Act (ACA)
The Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obamacare’, is a comprehensive health care reform law that was enacted in
March of 2010. This law has three primary goals: (Healthcare.gov, n.d.).
1. Make affordable health insurance available to more people. This law provides consumers with subsidies (‘premium tax credits’) that lower costs for households with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.
2. Expand the Medicaid program to cover all adults with income between 138% of the federal poverty law, known as Medicaid expansion.
– Not all states have chosen to participate in Medicaid expansion. The states that are not participating include: (12 states in total) Wyoming, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi,
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Essentially, this means in order to qualify for Medicaid in one of these states, you must be determined as disabled or have minor children in your home with no income/extremely low income per month.
3. Support innovative medical delivery methods designed to lower the costs of health care generally.
Another major issue that the ACA addressed was pre-existing conditions. Prior to the ACA being put into law, insurance companies were able to deny a person coverage under the pretense of “pre-existing conditions”. Since the ACA has been put in place, health insurance companies can’t refuse to cover you or charge you more just because you have a “pre-existing condition” – meaning, a health problem you were experiencing before the date that new health coverage starts (U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services, 2017).
How is a Policy made?
The information from this section was taken directly from USHistory.org, Titled ‘Policy Making, Political Interactions”.
After learning so much about policy, the question remains: How exactly is a policy created in the United States? There are many parts to policy creation and made different groups involved.
“Public policy is a goal-oriented course of action that the government follows in dealing with a problem or issue in the country. Public policies are based on law, but many people other than legislators set them. Individuals, groups, and even government agencies that do not comply with policies can be penalized. This complicated process goes through a predictable series of steps”:
1. Recognizing the problem. At any given time, many conditions disturb or distress people, such as unsafe workplaces, natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes, crime, pollution, or the cost of medical care. But all disturbing conditions do not automatically become problems. People have to recognize that government can and should do something about them. For example, most citizens probably do not expect government to prevent hurricanes. However, they may expect government to help hurricane victims through quick relief actions.
2. Agenda setting. An agenda is a set of problems that government wants to solve. Usually there are so many of them that they must be prioritized, with some problems getting earlier and more attention than others. Agenda setting may respond
to pressure from interest groups, political parties, the media, and other branches of government. Agendas usually are reshaped when a new President takes office or when the majority party in Congress changes after an election. A crisis such as war, depression, natural disasters, or a tragic accident, almost always re-prioritizes issues.
3. Formulating the policy. At this stage, usually several conflicting plans from various political interests take shape. Various players — the president and White House aides, agency officials, especially appointed task forces, interest groups, private research organizations, and legislators — may take part in formulating new policy.
4. Adopting the policy. Once various plans are presented, one policy is accepted by the decision-makers. In many cases, a policy is adopted when Congress passes a law. Policy adoption may also take place when the President signs an executive order or when the Supreme Court rules on an important case. Policy is often built in a series of small steps passed over time by different players, and eventually, a complex policy emerges.
5. Implementing the policy. Most public policies are carried out by administrative agencies in the executive branch, although sometimes the courts get involved in implementing decisions they make. Agencies use many techniques to see that policy is carried out. Sometimes they punish people and organizations who do not comply with policy. For example, a state can take a driver’s license away from a bad driver. Or the government may offer incentives, like tax breaks for contributing to the presidential election campaign. They even appeal to people’s better instincts, such as using the slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
6. Evaluating the policy. Policy makers often try to determine what a policy is actually accomplishing or whether or not it is being carried out efficiently. Often the evaluation process takes place over time with contributions from many of the interacting players. Most evaluations call for some degree of change and correction, and inevitably, at least some of the players
will disagree. The whole process then begins again, starting with re-recognition of the problem.
Decision-making, then, is a continuous process with numerous people participating. At any given time, government is at various stages of policy-making in a never-ending quest to provide solutions to countless societal problems.” (USHistory.org, 2008).
Overview of the US Welfare Programs
There are six major welfare programs that exist in the United States today. They include: Temporary Assistance for those in Need (TANF), Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Programs, Supplemental Security Income and Housing Assistance (Amadeo, 2020).
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (often referred to as SNAP or food stamps), provided eligible people with benefit cards, that can be used like debit cards, to buy food at grocery stores and farmer markets.
In 2017, this program was utilized by 42.6 million people. The average individual received $126 per month. The total cost for this program during this time was over $70 billion. Of this total accrued cost, 93% was spent on food and 7% was spent on administrative costs. A recipient that does not have any children is required to work after three months of being on the program. However, the program waives the work requirement for those who live in areas with high unemployment rates (The Six Major U.S. Welfare Programs, n.d.)
Medicaid provides free or low-cost health benefits to adults, kids, pregnant women, seniors and people with disabilities.
In 2017, this program paid for the health care of 75.1 million low-income adults and 30 million children. Medicaid will pay for costs that Medicare does not cover. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, it increased Medicaid coverage by a total of twenty-eight percent. This act also raised the qualification income level and allowed single adults to qualify for the program. (The Six Major U.S. Welfare Programs, n.d.)