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America's social safety net has expanded
dramatically over the past 100 years. At the turn of the last century,
Americans still viewed themselves as "rugged individualists." Families,
local communities, and charities (often religiously based) formed the
backbone of the social safety net of the time.
The Great Depression of the 1930s changed much of that. President Frankin D. Roosevelt's New Deal established Social Security in 1935 and inaugurated the modern day federal welfare program with a modest small program called Aid to Dependent Children (ADC). The next great expansion came during the Johnson administration in the 1960s, when Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, and other programs were established.
Much of America's welfare state remained largely unchanged after that until August of 1996, when a Republican Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a sweeping welfare reform law that is still the subject of much controversy in public policy circles. Conservatives celebrate its sweeping work requirements and the dramatic decline in welfare caseloads that occurred in its aftermath. Liberals counter that most of the positive changes that occurred have been due to an improved economy and low unemployment. They point out that national poverty rates have not declined as much as welfare rolls, and express concern about what will happen when the economy loses steam.
Such programs, including welfare, Social Security, public housing, hunger and nutrition programs, childcare and child support, and others, are the focus of this section.
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