Many discussions on our country’s current economic situation find the participating individuals taking one extreme or the other with regards to the welfare system. Some will say that it is completely broken and should be abolished while others see no problem with it and/or are in favor of extending qualifications for aid to more of the population. While I do not agree that the system should be abolished completely I do think that it is broken and should be reconstituted in such a way to provide help only to those that are willing to earn it and that does not reward irresponsibility. Here’s what I would propose. Feel free to add suggestions. For the sake of this discussion we’ll only address able-bodied individuals requiring assistance. The qualifications for disability should be similarly revised but would need to have more flexibility and therefore should be considered separately.
Step 1. Welfare increases would no longer be given out for the birth of an additional child. If you are on welfare you will have access to free birth control via an expanded free clinic system and would be expected to use it responsibly. Yes, there are cases where even responsible use of birth control is not effective but those are very rare and should not affect the guidelines.
Step 2. Mandatory drug testing (including alcohol) for all recipients. While I am a believer in personal freedoms and do not have a problem with an individual using substances to alter their state of mind as long as it does not impact others, I do not believe anyone should be allowed to do so when they are dependent on the government for subsistence. If we are to require the general public to give money (that is what taxes do) we should not mandate that they do so for someone who is voluntarily altering their mind in a way which makes them unemployable.
Step 3. In the place of the current check distribution would be grocery centers, direct mailing of rent/utility subsidization to the landlord and utility companies (not to include cable tv but including basic internet access and phone), and clothes programs. A family would be given a set of weekly meal packages with there being variations for size of family and very basic personal preferences (vegetarian, no red meat, etc). Each package would have everything required (including spices) to make healthy, well balanced meals for a week and the system would allow for an additional spice per week (normal cooking spice size to last several months) of the family’s choosing as well as basic cleaning necessities such as laundry power and dish soap. In short, those receiving welfare would have less choice on how the money is spent but would get more out of it and there would be opportunity for the issuing body to realize efficiency through standardization.
The rental subsidization would have a limit placed on it that is equal to no more than the 20th percentile for the area in which the recipient lives. This phase would have limits set for the amount of time a recipient is able to receive assistance over a given period. After the limit is reached there would be a second, reduced level of assistance offered with focus on child care and meals.
Step 4. An education system would be put in place that required anyone receiving welfare to obtain a GED if they do not already have one or a high school diploma. Classes would be available during the day and evening to accommodate job searches and part-time employment. Child care would be provided while classes are being attended. Additional practical application classes would be offered for specific job skills to help qualify individuals for employment.
Step 5. Jobs. There are many tasks for ANY area that do not get accomplished due to lack of funding. As the system progresses these tasks would be completed by recipients in exchange for their assistance. In short, if you want assistance you’ll work for it. The wages for these tasks would be set at minimum wage (as determined by the state in which they live) with some getting an extra premium for type of effort of no more than 10% and would include everything from assisting with trash clean-up to assistance with administrative duties of various government departments as determined by skills tests and recipient’s abilities.
All of the same standards of employment would have to be met as they are for other government jobs (effectiveness, timeliness, proof of ability to work in US, drug testing, etc) and an individual would be given no more than 2 chances (fired twice) to fulfill a job before being excluded from assistance for a period of no less than 5 years. Since this phase does not allow for receipt of assistance without earning it there will be no limits to how long a person may choose to accept the wages in return for the work.
At this point we should see a much lower unemployment rate (jobs program counts as employment) and the tasks being done under the government assistance program would be able to expand to meet local area beautification needs, raising the values of properties, bringing in new businesses, and expanding the job market for a given area. Instead of simply throwing hard-earned tax money at a problem we would be allowing those in need to earn what they need to provide for themselves and/or their family while making the area they live in nicer, learning a new skill, and/or increasing their own marketability for other jobs. I believe that this would ultimately lead to these individuals taking pride in their accomplishments and having a much higher degree of satisfaction with life in general than if the government were to simply hand out checks.
Yes, there are many details to iron out but this would be the basic framework (subject to updates and adjustments) on which I would base my attempt to enact welfare reform should I ever get in office. That should pretty much guarantee I’ll never be elected, huh?