The number of years for eligibility was decreased, and this led to more people being eligible for welfare. Employers were able to increase their labor demand, and the reforms made sure that the increased labor supply would be mandated, at least to a certain extent. (Bradshaw, 2003)
These were the overall objectives and aims of the welfare reforms, at a glance, in a hospital setup: to reduce the incapacity benefit claimants drastically, by about one million people, within a single decade, get 300,000 single parents back to work, and away from welfare, within a specific time period, and at the same time, increase by about one million, the number of people aged above fifty, into productive employment. It was also one of the main aims and objectives of welfare reforms that 'Employment and Support Allowance' would be able to effectively replace IB by the year 2008. Furthermore, all new claimants, according to the new reforms, would have to give 'work-focused interviews', and also at the same time, be capable of producing action plans and get involved in work related activities, unless they are either severely disabled, or if they are suffering from poor health and other related disorders, and they are therefore, physically incapable of working. If, for example, the able people were to ignore this criterion, then they would have to suffer from a payment loss, and these payments would resume, once the claimants gets back to work. (Welfare Reforms at a glance)
Meanwhile, all older people, that is, people aged above fifty and up to fifty-nine years of age, would be expected to seek out new an additional job seeking supports that are made available to them through the new welfare reforms, or the so called 'New Deal'. Physically handicapped persons or people suffering from poor health would be able to avail of newer benefits, and at higher rates, but at the same time, everyone would have to undergo 'assessment'. In other words, this would mean that even if, for example, an individual is certifiably 'blind' and must therefore be paid benefits; he would have to be assessed fist, for testing the severity of his condition, before he can put in his claims. In the same manner, the mental health capacity of the claimant would be assessed in line with the terms and conditions that are 'prevalent today'.
A special unit would be set up, in order to conduct 'periodic checks' on those patients who were claiming welfare, and wherever needed, updated medical advice would also be offered. For a lone parent, welfare reforms brought in certain terms, like for example, for a single parent whose child was at least eleven years old, interviews and assessments would be conducted, at least once every three months, and those parents who had been on welfare for more than a year, interviews would be conducted once every six months or so, with the added advantage of 'pilot schemes' for lone parents, who are in the time period of one year of claiming welfare, because this would help them a great deal in the 'adaptive' stage that they are in at this time. (Welfare Reforms at a glance)
What is the future of welfare reform, and how would it be handled? As mentioned earlier, the federal welfare reform law, or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known, as the PRWORA would have to be re-organized at a later date sometime in the future. When the act was initially passed in the year 1996, journalists, researchers, politicians, and others termed it 'revolutionary', 'path breaking' and also described it in other glowing terms. At that time, however, not much was actually known about the impact that some of the provisions of the reforms would have in the future. One of the more significant of these reforms was the fact that a five-year life time limit would be imposed on the number of months federal funds could be used to pay a family's welfare benefits after they claimed it. This was in reality a completely daunting prospect; something wherein states involved would have to pay at least 50% of single-parent welfare recipients, which would come up to at the very least, a 90% of two-parent household heads, in 30 hours weekly work or related activities. (What works in Welfare Reform?)
These are generally considered to be extremely tough restrictions on the type and amount of education and job search activities that could constitute as successfully meeting the work participation requirement; and when incentives to reduce out-of-wedlock parenting and promote marriage were to be added to the already onerous burden, states found it a tough proposition indeed. Open-ended entitlements to benefits was abolished or changed to a great extent, and these were in turn replaced by a fixed dollar amount payable to each state. Although this meant that a state could now exercise great flexibility in the design and pattern of programs meant for the poor, and they could now use this flexibility in creative ways, as they saw fit, most states took the predictable course, wherein they set shorter time limits on welfare receipt and thereafter tightened sanctions for noncompliance, including use of full-family sanctions that would effectively end the entire welfare grant if the parent were to be unsuccessful in meeting the various participation requirements needed by the states. Soon enough, all states were allowing beneficiaries to mix work and welfare benefits, albeit on a temporary basis, and achieved this by increasing the amount of earnings, which would not be taken as against their benefits from the welfare reforms, if they were to take up employment anywhere. Some states also attempted to transfer almost one third of their block-grant money and funds to the cause of child welfare, childcare, and other related issues.
However, all this meant that there was great uncertainty and vagueness about whether or not states would be able to effectively meet the required new participation standards, and also if all the new infinitely stricter working standards and requirements, the harsher sanctions for non-compliance, and the time limits for availing of benefits be able to make things easier, or more difficult for the beneficiaries of the welfare reforms. Would children inadvertently have to suffer when the parents went to work, all of a sudden? Would work incentives eventually increase, or decrease the input, and would the reforms act as the final catalyst in issues related to marriage, childbearing, and child rearing for the poor people of the country, finally bringing in changes wherever required? The new participation standards brought in on account of the welfare reforms, the emphasis placed on caseload reduction vs. poverty reduction, and strategies for strengthening the marriage provisions were the main areas of disagreement, and these are still the issues that may be the root cause of the debate for the extension of or against welfare reforms. (What works in Welfare Reform?)
However, despite all these facts and figures, the fact cannot be denied that welfare reforms have been a success. What this success reveals is that even the most intransigent and uncompromising social problems may not be beyond one's reach, and that in the same way as certain wrong policies and wrong moves served to ultimately encourage dependency, the right policies have served to encourage work and additional incentives for employment. It can be stated that welfare reforms have therefore succeeded in reducing dependency, and also in encouraging single mothers to work for themselves and for their children, and start off on the road towards self-sufficiency and the development of self-confidence. Although it is a fact that many more tough challenges lie ahead, and welfare reforms are by no means a closed issue, pro-work programs such as these must indeed be encouraged, and more such programs must be brought in too. (The past and future of welfare reform)
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