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How Public Welfare Programs Were Established


Have you ever wondered how the welfare programs got started? While researching about President Ford from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the question came up. Prior to the 1900’s local governments shared with private charitable organizations major responsibility for public assistance known as “public relief.”

When women were unable to work and had no rights, their husbands had control of them, the children, and the property.


1850 the identity of the wife was merged into that of the husband when they were married. He received all her personal property. The husband was a legal person but she was not. The husband was obliged to support the wife and her offspring and could not sign a contract without the signature of her husband. Her property could be squandered by a drunken abusive husband, leaving her without financial means if he died or abandoned her. Many states passed the Married Women's Separate Property Acts. These acts gave women the legal right to retain ownership of their property they brought into the marriage. They also secured the right to have custody of their children after divorce by two doctrines governing child custody, the "best-interest-of-the-child" and the "tender years" doctrine that arose after the Civil War in 1865.


1857 Matrimonial Causes Act allowed ordinary people to divorce which was hugely expensive, so open only to the rich. Usually someone had to be at fault for the divorce and it had to be proven what that was. For instant a cheating spouse.


1914 When World War 1 was happening, women started working in factories. They were expected to keep up with men and they did all the jobs that men did. Women with money became a threat to men as women now had the means to leave and be able to take care of themselves.

1920 Women were finally given rights to Vote.


Beginning in the 1800s women started to organize for the right to vote. These women worked tirelessly and some pursued a strategy of passing the woman’s suffrage acts in each state. It took them over a decade to accomplish their purpose. 1878 the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and 1920 it was ratified.


The Progressive Era

During this era some state governments began to assume more responsibility for helping the worthy poor. By 1926, forty states had established some type of public relief program.


The Great Depression

Working women were a threat. The inadequate State financed public assistance programs collapsed during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Immediately after assuming office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed and then signed the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA).


The relief aided in meeting the costs of furnishing relief and work relief and in relieving the hardship and suffering caused by unemployment in the form of money, service, materials, and/or commodities to provide the necessities of life to persons in need as a result of the present emergency, and/or to their dependents, whether resident, transient, or homeless.


Committee on Economic Security

The study of methods for providing “security against the hazards and vicissitudes of life” with the primary purpose of developing a workable social insurance system was formed.


1935 President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. The law was a landmark piece of legislation that created, among other things, the basic framework. These new state-federal welfare programs were “means tested” and “categorical” in nature. Means testing required the applicant to prove/demonstrate that their income and assets were below the level to be deemed eligible for assistance in a particular state. This guided the nation’s public welfare system for sixty years.

Men were leaving their wives and the wives were going on public assistance with no means to work to feed their children and afford places to live. These men had good jobs and lived in nice houses while the government supported the women and children, the men were living it up.


1937 the law was changed and divorce was allowed on other grounds including insanity, drunkenness, and desertion.


1969 the Divorce Reform Act passed known as the ‘No Fault Divorce” allowing couples to divorce after they had been separated for two years and ended if the relationship had broken down.


1963 the states constitutions had to be rewritten because of Civil Rights. The way money was distributed to the states was changed.


1973 Congress federalized the cash assistance programs serving adults into the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.


1975 Child Support Provisions of the Social Security Act was implemented by President Gerald R Ford. The government was finely done with fathers having good jobs, not taking responsibility for their children and the government doing so. Ford specifically wanted provisions for the use of the Federal courts and the tax collection procedures of the Internal Revenue Service. He wanted the collection of child support and the provisions establishing a parent locator service-with access to all Federal records. This way fathers could be located and held responsible for their children. Fathers who purposely refused to pay child support were then held by the Federal government responsible for child support and jailed if they failed to pay.


What fathers did not realize is that the judges were given and incentive to collect child support by Title IV D.


1996 the White v White was a landmark case because it was decided the assets should be split more fairly and recognized the contribution of a "homemaker". These mothers were know by welfare as “a displaced homemaker” and it was thought that they had no work related skills.



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