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Featured Issues >> Social Welfare Policy

Historically, social welfare policy in the United States has focused on providing support for very low-income children and, by extension, their custodial parents. Due to traditional societal gender roles around caregiving, mothers are most often the head of single parent families and are therefore eligible to receive income support from the state. It is crucial to acknowledge that these programs are minimal and insufficient for addressing both the amount and degree of need that exists among low-income mother-headed households. At the same time, men (as noncustodial fathers) are not eligible for the income support programs that are available to mothers with children. To the extent that men have been included in social welfare policy, the focus has been on child support and marriage.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, placed emphasis on identifying the fathers of children receiving public assistance, establishing their legal paternity and, perhaps most critically, establishing and enforcing the payment of child support orders. The next administration, under President George W. Bush, moved the focus decidedly away from child support toward marriage promotion.

Overall, the past 15 years of welfare policy have focused on “personal responsibility” for mothers and “responsible fatherhood” for men. Resources and energy were dedicated to teaching and demanding responsibility from low-income parents. However, low-income parents are no different than others of higher socio-economic status in that they love their children and accept responsibility for them. Government resources, then, would be better spent supporting parents’ determination to pursue opportunities that may benefit themselves and their children.