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Social Welfare Policy: Overview  

Diana M. DiNitto and David H. Johnson

Social welfare policy may be defined as government’s response to human needs such as food, housing, healthcare, employment, and other necessities. Many contemporary U.S. social welfare policies have roots in the New Deal programs of the 1930s, which were responses to the Great Depression. The civil unrest of the 1960s, the “Great Recession” of 2008, and the COVID-19 pandemic also brought about major policy responses. There are basic philosophical differences in approaches that Americans believe the United States should take to meeting human needs, often described in liberal and conservative perspectives. Social insurance and public assistance programs are major responses to poverty and other needs. Disparities based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors may also be addressed through social welfare policies, sometimes in the form of civil rights legislation. Racism and other forms of systemic discrimination, however, continue to prevent many Americans from reaping the benefits that others enjoy. The National Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics calls for social workers’ political involvement. Social workers participate in all aspects of policy processes to improve the biopsychosocial well-being of Americans and people across the globe.

Article

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families  

Catherine K. Lawrence

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act repealed the 60-year-old national welfare program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and replaced it with a new cash assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The 1996 law introduced a new generation of rules and regulations for delivering cash and other assistance to families living in poverty, and it fundamentally reformed the way the United States assists such families and their children. Decades after welfare reform, opinions regarding the success of TANF and its impact on families still vary; welfare caseloads have declined since TANF implementation, but economic disparities have escalated in the nation, and self-sufficiency eludes many families.

Article

Urban Planning and Social Work  

Laurie A. Walker

Urban neighborhood disinvestment in the United States resulted in deferred maintenance of buildings and common social problems experienced by residents. Strategies to redevelop neighborhoods include collaboration among many subsystems seeking to collectively invest in places and people. Contemporary federal initiatives focus on incentivizing coordinated investments between existing local community-based organizations, local and federal government, and private investors. Public–private partnerships include anchor institutions with commitments to the long-term success of place-based initiatives who invest their financial, intellectual, social, and political capital. Social workers are embedded in local community-based organizations and relationships with residents in neighborhoods experiencing redevelopment. Social workers can help guide top-down and bottom-up approaches to neighborhood revitalization toward more equitable and inclusive processes and outcomes. Resident engagement in redeveloping neighborhoods takes many forms and requires differing skill sets for social workers. Urban redevelopment is a global trend with common critiques regarding relying on gentrification and market-driven strategies with private investors.

Article

Urban Practice  

Wendy Cholico

Social work practice is best understood and practiced when taking into account the local context. The urban context of social work practice may share much with suburban and rural contexts but also brings with it unique problems and opportunities. Location in urban cities plays a major role on the social, economic, and environmental justice of group populations. Within close proximity and density of some locations, groups of people become isolated due to social and economic status. Subsequently, opportunities that foster well-being are limited and environmental hazards such as water and air pollution further suppress vulnerable group populations, limiting opportunities due to structural disparities. Distribution of environments, resources, and opportunities is connected to social justice through the relationship of people and environment, combined by race, gender, and class. Furthermore, gentrification is an evolving social problem that leads to displacement of vulnerable groups, challenging social workers to be social, economic, environmental, and political change agents that disrupt injustices on behalf of marginalized populations.

Article

Welfare Rights  

David Stoesz and Catherine Born

American social and economic justice advocates, social workers included, have struggled to establish a national mindset that welfare is a right, a duty owed to the people by government, not a privilege that can be revoked at will. Industrialized nations with a universalistic, rights-based philosophy have strived to provide citizens with some measure of a basic, minimum income; the United States has not, yet. The United States has been hobbled by ideology; a two-tier system consisting of assistance and insurance; and cultural misgivings about direct, ongoing public payments (welfare) to the poor. Revitalization of a national welfare rights movement, early signals from the Biden administration, and awareness that major social policy changes most often happen at times of crisis offer reasons for a degree of optimism. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath are a moment in time—an inflection point—when social workers, because of their training, ethical codes, skill sets, and appreciation of the lessons of social welfare history, could play a key role in charting a new course of action suited to 21st-century needs and realities.

Article

Worker Justice Campaigns  

Fred Brooks and Amanda Gutwirth

If one of the goals of macro social work in the United States is to decrease poverty and inequality, by most measures it has largely failed that mission over the past 40 years. After briefly documenting the four-decade rise in inequality and extreme poverty in the United States, three organizing campaigns are highlighted—living wage, Fight for $15, and strikes by public school educators—that fought hard to reverse such trends. A strategy, “bargaining for the common good,” which was implemented across those campaigns, is analyzed as a key ingredient to their success.