From a long-time reader provides some historical...


May 23, 1994

A LETTER from a long-time reader provides some historical perspective on the current debate about welfare reform. He writes as follows:

"I was a social worker in a county welfare department in the late 1930s when the ADC [Aid to Dependent Children] program, as it was then identified, saw the light of day. Why ADC? Simply because assistance was provided exclusively for children: $18 for the first child, $12 for each additional, on the basis of eligibility of course. Supplemental payments came from the locally financed General Public Assistance program -- in very limited amounts. Later the federal-state funding became available.

"From today's perspective, few persons would take exception to the eligibility of those early families for assistance. First and foremost were the widows with children. Secondly were the families in which the father (no wage earner mothers then) was totally and permanently incapacitated, either bedfast or in a wheel chair. Even then, however, the general taxpaying citizenry rather grudgingly accepted the granting of aid in these situations. Completely off limits were those families in which the father was ambulatory but medically had been found to be permanently and totally disabled (tuberculosis, emphysema, heart condition). In the prevailing view these were fakers, frauds and especially so if heads of large families. The work 'malingerer' became a part of the lexicon.

"As for unwed mothers, well, they were only a minor element as far as AFDC was concerned, but the wrath of gods was visited upon the agency if aid was provided. Actually, for the well-to-do, a pregnant teen-ager visited relatives in another state where the baby was delivered and placed for adoption. (As pre-adoptive parents for 18 years beginning in 1966, we cared for many of these infants.) As for those unweds remaining at home, they seldom ventured from their homes and even more rarely applied for assistance. Adoption here was also a recourse.

"Today you hear pundits declare that welfare was meant only to be a temporary condition from its very beginning. Not so. In those early days, mothers were not wage earners, and ADC was felt to be essential so that kids could complete high school at least."

-- Abner Kaplan

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