The ‘Helping Hand’ Known as the Government

It is no secret that the government doles out its fair share of help to those in need. “When you add pensions, unemployment, Social Security, and Medicare to the mix, the percentage of Americans relying on government for part or all of their subsistence is 49.5% of the American population” (Moreland), which is an overwhelming amount of people, considering the United States alone has roughly 300 million inhabitants.  The federal, state and local governments aid the poor through the use of social welfare policies that provided a sort of safety net for some people.

In the 1600s, England had a policy known as poor laws, which America strongly based its early social policies on. Poor laws made the British communities take care of the sick and poor. Not until around the Great Depression did the United States government become more involved in the care of the needy. “Beginning in the 1930’s, national policies focused on promoting the general welfare through social programs for all Americans, regardless of their income level” (Gitelson), therefore, resulting in different types of  government aide; for the poor and the general public. Before modern tactics came into play, the government issued programs for: general assistance, work assistance, and categorical assistance. These programs received a wide range of criticism. In the 1980s,  some thought these programs created too much dependency. This criticism still holds truth value to this day. An article from the National Review stated that “many welfare recipients, particularly long-term ones, lack the skills and attachment to the job market necessary to obtain the types of jobs that pay average or above-average wages” (Tanner). This dependence on welfare is caused by a lack of education and skills necessary to make a justifiable living in today’s society. These entitled individuals on welfare do not learn skills, rather they learn how to successfully live off government subsidizes year after year instead of using it as a safety net or as a means to getting back on their feet. Another criticism was that welfare was too expensive. People were not wrong about welfare back in the 1980s; in California’s state budget, about “30% of the budget is taken up with Health and Human Services which accounts for the health care and welfare programs provided by the state” (Scarpelli). Right now, about 10 million people live off Medi-Cal, the State health care system for ones in need. It may be easy to think from a taxpayer’s perspective that we need to cut welfare, but California’s funds are set up by means of matching funds, which means programs are matched, dollar for dollar, by Federal government dollars. The agreement coexists between two levels of government.  One level provides money for the program and one provides money for the purpose. If the Federal program was cut, the citizens would actually be losing Federal dollars since the two are tied together. It is crucial to take into account how much of the cutting will impact federal dollars.

In 1996, there was a major welfare reform legislation which resulted in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. This act also introduced Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This assisted needy families, reduced unwanted pregnancies, and encouraged the establishment of two-parent families. At some point, “nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line…, and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty…” (Thomas) and having these programs help people in these situations. Other services include food stamps. In their life, “half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time” (Thomas). Now known as the Supplemental Security Income Program; it is the main food assistance for people needing food, and only those who have a gross income of less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line may qualify. These programs are just a few examples of the helping hand of the government and how many people it can help.

As Ronald Reagan once said, “We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added”. tHIS couldn’t be more true. Governmental actions should give us the power and mobility to deal with difficult times and get us back on our feet and help us deal with poverty and inequality, but not rely on it forever. When used wisely, our tax dollars, and welfare system in general, can help the lives of thousands of Americans and get them to where they need to be today for a better tomorrow.  



Works Cited

Moreland, By James. “Percentage of Americans Now on Welfare .” Economy In Crisis RSS,

Scarpelli, Craig. “Chapter 15: Domestic Policy and Policymaking.” California in the American System, McGraw Hill, 2012.

Tanner, Michael. “Welfare: A Better Deal than Work.” National Review, 21 Aug. 2013,

Thomas, Mark. “Why Social Insurance Is a Necessary Part of Capitalism.” The Fiscal Times,