- Welfare Reform in the United States: Resulting Consumption Behaviors, Health and Nutrition Outcomes, and Public Policy Solutions
This article examines current welfare reform measures within the context of the history of modern welfare policy and its impact upon families living in poverty. An analysis of poor families’ buying power, consumer needs, and alternative income sources are also delineated, with special attention paid to health and nutrition outcomes. The article closes with market-based policy suggestions designed to empower financially disadvantaged families through self-sufficiency. These measures would allow the poor to earn the income necessary to acquire basic consumer products that enhance physical and mental health.
The truth is that [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] is like a supersexist marriage [and] you can’t divorce him if he treats you bad. He can divorce you, of course, cut you off anytime he wants. But in that case he keeps the kids, not you. The man runs everything. In ordinary marriage, sex is supposed to be for you and your husband. On AFDC you’re not supposed to have sex at all. . . . You may even have to agree to have your tubes tied so you can never have more children just to avoid being cut off welfare. The man, the welfare system, controls your money. He tells you what to buy and what not to buy, where to buy it, and how much things cost. If things—rent, for instance—really cost more than they say they do, it’s just too bad for you. 1 [End Page 142]
The publication of The Disadvantaged Consumer by Alan Andreasen in 1975 2 legitimated study of the poor by marketing policy researchers. Scholars who have heeded his “call to arms” continue to document the lack of opportunity and variety in the consumer environment inhabited by people living in poverty. 3 Taken together, this research stream suggests that the situation of the poor might worsen significantly if proposed welfare reform measures are enacted.
Following the resounding defeat of Democrats in the November 1994 elections, House Republicans, led by Congressman Newt Gingrich, put forth ten draft bills that make up their “Contract with America.” One aspect of this proposed legislation, the welfare reform bill, would further constrict the buying power and consumer options of millions of Americans living in poverty through a reduction in their average level of aid. The bill contains four main proposals that are discussed in turn: eliminating benefits, requiring work, capping welfare spending, and providing state flexibility. 4 The first proposal, eliminating benefits, is an attempt to reduce welfare payments through a contraction of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), 5 the nation’s primary welfare program. The Republicans intend to eliminate aid to children born to mothers under the age of eighteen. They want to use these unallocated funds to promote adoption and to operate orphanages. Further, benefits would not increase for women on welfare who have additional children and mothers would be required to establish paternity as a condition for receiving AFDC.
Requiring work would mandate that recipients of welfare be employed in make-work jobs an average of thirty-five hours a week for a period of no more than two years. Additionally, families receiving welfare would be limited to five years of benefits or two years of benefits under a jobs program. In total, 1.5 million AFDC recipients would be required to work by the year 2001.
Capping welfare spending involves limiting the amount allocated to several antipoverty programs, including AFDC, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and fifteen different housing programs. Food and nutritional programs, such as food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition [End Page 143] Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), would be impacted as well. The income programs would be capped at the amount spent the previous year, adjusted for inflation and the growth of the poverty subpopulation. The food programs would be consolidated into a block grant and the amount allocated would be 5 percent less than the previous total. Noncitizens would be ineligible for most of these programs.
Providing state flexibility would give the states the ability to allocate...