Welfare Reform: Promoting Independence and Self-Reliance
Mary Smith gets up every day at 6 am and begins to hustle around the house. She rouses her three children from their slumber and forces them to get ready for school. Once the kids are on the bus, she hops in her car and heads off to her job at the local fast food restaurant. After working her seven hours at the restaurant, she goes to her night course at the college in town. The course she is taking will help her get her high school diploma and possibly lead her to a successful career. These two things have been dreams of Mary's for so long, but she hasn't been able to attain them until now. She has been on welfare since the age of eighteen after having her first baby, Elijah. Most days life still seems like an endless tunnel, but now she thinks she may be starting to see a little light through the darkness.
Many single mothers, like Mary Smith, and others on welfare have been given the chance to pursue happiness because of the reforms to the United States' welfare system. In August of 1996, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that changed much of the system. The bill that he signed was called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The three goals of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 were "1) to reduce welfare dependency and increase employment, 2) to reduce child poverty and 3) to reduce illegitimacy and strengthen marriage" (Rector, par. 1). Clinton's plan also included three new rules: "1) requires most recipients to work within two years of receiving assistance; 2) limits most assistance to five years total; and 3) lets states establish 'family caps' to deny additional benefits to mothers for children born while the mothers are already on public assistance" (Froomking, sec. 2 par. 1). The basic plan of the reform was to make welfare recipients more responsible for their families and require them to go out and find a job. Bill Archer summed up the reform in this way, " The time has come to replace this failed system...a new system that turns the social safety net from a trap into a trampoline, a new system that rewards work and personal responsibility in families" (Clinton 25).
To accomplish the goal of self-reliance for recipients, Clinton proposed that states and communities should develop training programs to help people get the basic skills they need to remain a strong contestant in the job market. Many communities took the initiative and developed these programs. In most cases, the training programs have been successful, but there are still critics who argue against them. Those who stand in opposition claim that most state and employer programs focus on getting recipients quickly into jobs, rather than on providing training that could help workers escape the low-skill, low-pay syndrome (Hammonds 102).
However, there are many programs that refute this comment. In...