In 1988, during the last presidential election campaign, Congress passed the Family Support Act—a much-heralded welfare reform measure that required all states to implement job training and educational programs for welfare recipients. The legislation symbolized a new "social contract," emphasizing government's responsibility to offer needed support for those seeking self-sufficiency, and a commitment to participate on the part of those seeking the benefits.
The idea was, and still is, a good one. But it hasn't brought the kind of radical social change it promised, as a recent study by SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government pointed out. The recession, combined with a lack of political will in many states to expand its services, has limited the effect of the job training program. (Because of budget constraints, states have used only about 60 percent of the $1 billion available in matching federal funds.)
Many experts now say that such welfare-to-work programs, while reducing welfare costs and encouraging self-sufficiency, must be supplemented by other government assistance if welfare recipients are to escape poverty.
Meanwhile, as economic conditions have worsened, the number of parents seeking funds through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has skyrocketed. Many states have responded by freezing or slashing welfare programs such as AFDC and tightening eligibility standards.
In Michigan, where manufacturing jobs are on the decline due to closing plants, Gov. John Engler eliminated last fall the entire "general assistance" cash aid program to single adults in need—a move that religious leaders in the state described as "cruel and immoral."