‘Welfare’ is a misused term

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Julia Haslanger’s otherwise very interesting, very well written article, “Circles Help People Looking to Get Out of Poverty” (July 14), there is an inaccuracy in the statement; “The first class of Circles was funded in part by a federal grant to help people who were sanctioned recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as welfare.”

There has never been a federal program called “welfare” ­— ever. While I understand the editorial concern that not all readers will know the alphabet soup of federal program acronyms or even official program titles, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say TANF is commonly referred to as “welfare?” Saying that “TANF was formally known as welfare” is like saying “No Child Left Behind was formally known as public education.”

In 1996, TANF replaced a program, first called Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) and later called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The Aid to Dependent Children program was a component of the FDR administration’s 1935 Social Security Act. At that time, ADC was not just politically viable, but politically lauded by most, as were benefits established for the elderly and disabled that continue today, colloquially called “Social Security” and “Medicare.” The ADC program’s title was changed in 1960 to include “families with” dependent children, reflecting the Kennedy administration’s response to a conservative attack on the program that accused it of encouraging children born out of wedlock. The Johnson administration not just protected, but enhanced the Social Security Administration’s programs through his policy initiative, “The War on Poverty,” which additionally made health care benefits available to the poor through the federal Medicaid program initiated in 1965.

I am submitting you to this little lecture because “welfare” is a generic, frequently pejorative term that refers to no specific program or policy, yet certainly reflects an insidious political and social bias that is typically hateful towards the most vulnerable in our nation. Usually when I see the term “welfare” used by the media, it’s used as a lazy descriptive. So I simply wince, bite my tongue and try not to think about it. However, in this case, the term “welfare” is used incorrectly as a direct and specific reference for the reader. So, it deserves correction.

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