What is Welfare?

Brendan McGuigan

There are many different types of welfare, but each are generally concerned with a government trying to provide support for its citizens. This may take place through social welfare provisions, social security, or financial aid. When the government is seen as supporting businesses directly, rather than allowing the free market to cause some businesses to fail, it is pejoratively described as corporate welfare. And when a government allows its programs to grow to a point deemed excessive by critics, they may choose to describe the government as a welfare state.

Welfare was designed to give financial assistance to those who meet certain financial requirements.
Welfare was designed to give financial assistance to those who meet certain financial requirements.

Really, any program in which the government provides money or services to citizens who are in need is a welfare program. As such, many programs that critics do not criticize could, in fact, fall into this category, and in these cases the term should be seen to mean primarily programs in excess of a certain base level. At the same time, proponents of greater welfare would point to theoretical programs as simply looking after more base needs, and therefore on a similar footing as existing social support systems.

Single parents are one group who commonly receives some type of welfare.
Single parents are one group who commonly receives some type of welfare.

A social welfare provision, which is what many people mean when they speak of welfare, is a program that aims to give a base level of income to people who may be out of work, disabled, or elderly. The idea is that without the government stepping in to help these groups, they would otherwise not survive, and so the government has a moral obligation to support them. Proponents also point out that keeping people at a certain minimum level allows them to work, and therefore ultimately helps the society at large financially.

Welfare can be used to make sure children have access to plenty of food.
Welfare can be used to make sure children have access to plenty of food.

People who have been laid off, for example, may be eligible for welfare while they look for other work. This may come in the form of direct financial assistance, or in the form of a scrip, such as food stamps, which may be exchanged for necessary commodities. Those who have a disability which keeps them from working may be eligible for the same sorts of programs, although they do not face the requirement of searching for a new job.

Welfare may provide monetary assistance to elderly persons who are unable to work.
Welfare may provide monetary assistance to elderly persons who are unable to work.

Many nations have a national health care system, which acts as a massive form of welfare, allowing those of all socioeconomic groups access to medical attention should they need it. In the United States, certain medical welfare systems exist to support those most at risk, particularly children, but there is no universal health care system in place. One universal form that does exist in the United States, and has for a long time, is free education for all citizens up to the completion of high school. The government covers the cost entirely, including in cases of need transportation and food, and this is one of the least contentious forms of welfare currently in the United States.

Some social welfare programs help needy families buy food and other essentials.
Some social welfare programs help needy families buy food and other essentials.

In the United States, welfare may also be used in a more specialized context, to refer specifically to what was historically known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and is now known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Since 1997 this system has been handled by the states, who use money given to them by the Federal government as they see fit. This welfare system is limited to a maximum of 60 months during the recipient’s lifetime, and has a requirement that while receiving assistance the recipient must be actively seeking new employment.

Young and single women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy may seek out welfare assistance.
Young and single women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy may seek out welfare assistance.
A disabled individual may receive financial assistance from the government.
A disabled individual may receive financial assistance from the government.
Countries that have national health care allow those on welfare access to medical attention.
Countries that have national health care allow those on welfare access to medical attention.

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Discussion Comments


I am Retired and on a fixed income. It does not matter how much I have coming in, because I earned it. Al lot of these people on welfare and food stamps do not deserve it. They can go look for a job just like the rest of us and if they cannot find a job, let them suffer. It is not my fault they are a bunch of stupid, ignorant idiots. I refuse to save lazy, poor, stupid, useless, worthless morons.


I've heard that the original purpose of a welfare system in the US was to keep too many people from becoming socialists or communists. This was a major concern during the Depression, since socialism and communism were both very appealing concepts to people on the lowest rung of a capitalist system. If an auto worker lost his job or a dirt farmer lost his crops, there was every chance he would die of starvation before finding more work. Roosevelt didn't want to give the socialist movement any more ammunition, so he created a social safety net called welfare.


There are so many people who abuse the welfare system. I think that if people can use the help when they need it and not try to live on the government and taxpayers' money, it could all work. This is not lifelong help -- just until people can improve their lives.


United Way doesn't need to give free medicine to married couples that have big cash hidden for years. They own Harley-Davidsons, go on vacation trips, rallies, run dealer tags, pay no insurance on anything, pay no income tax and have hidden cash income.

They can ride, spend money, eat steak and have pool parties, but get free assistance. Then there are very old people and veterans who have to work? I have worked very hard and long hours ever since I was 14 years old. Maybe they will qualify for the first trip to the Moon and live there for free!


Someone mentioned that six out of every 10 people are receiving some sort of government assistance. That would be 60 percent of the population. The actual number is 8 percent of the population is getting assistance of some sort from the government. That's about 63.1 million people in the U.S.


I don't have a problem with government assistance as long as it isn't abused (and it is), but our welfare system needs to be fixed so people who actually need it can use it. I don't care if you're conservative or liberal-- the statistics for how much some states pay people on welfare can flat out tick you off.


I don't think it's fair to some people like men who want to go to college and can't afford it. But women, on the other hand, if they have children they can get welfare like cash assistance and go to college free. Being a male, if you're unemployed and want to go to college, how do you get cash assistance from welfare?

I was on it from before for five years due to a lost job and now if you're on it five years, you can't get it again in a lifetime.

But for women, it doesn't matter if they have a child and care for it. They can be on it 18 years and sometimes even longer. This is poverty to me. It's racist and unfair to men!


Well, I work 40 hours a week in a hospital lab, I have two kids and a husband who has lost his job. Now we are on public assistance, and guess what? I pay for it too, and I use it, so not everyone who is on it is worthless. There are people out here who do need help and still help themselves.

I never had anything handed to me. I hand in my pay stubs to the state, they take in all my expenses and all my losses, so snooty people who sit on their high horses should maybe drop to our level.

Oh, and I went to school to work at the hospital. My husband is a great person and a great dad, but sometimes people need help. So thank you (state of Illinois) for helping the families who try to help themselves and who help others in their time of need. Oh and I'm 27 years old and proud of what I do and the things I have.


Welfare is good for people in need. Stop complaining about it especially if you're financially stable.


Maybe people just need to get a job when they're able to work and not get any government help.


I believe there must be a safety net for the most vulnerable among us .The problem is the nanny state, like in Europe. It simply does not and can never work.

Currently in the U.S., six out of 10 people receive food stamps or other assistance from the government. There is no way for any society to sustain that kind of cost. We should care for the helpless and forget about the clueless. Often people need a hand up and fall into the easier handout, that in my opinion, is far too easy to obtain.


I agree that there are times when some people are in need, and yes, most of us had had some kind of assistance like financial aid, etc., but it is sad that some people get this assistance and don't even live in the country.

I live on the border between the USA and Mexico and I know people that are US citizens who live in Mexico and borrow a US address to get the assistance and cross the bridge every day. Or, Mexico citizens with a Visa who have children who are US citizens and they do the same thing. I also know people who live in the USA who are of no legal status and the state cannot send them to get a job because they can't legally work in the USA. And they keep having children to get any kind of assistance there is out there like housing, medicaid, food stamps, etc.

I had a friend in junior high who was from Nicaragua. I didn't believe her that she had 14 brothers and sisters, until I went to her house and saw it with my own eyes. Her mother was of illegal status, but they were not, so they would receive about $1500 a month plus medicaid, housing etc., and they lived like that for ever. And I have seen families who work and because they check the gross not the net income, get denied assistance when they really can not afford some basic necessities. Who lives out of their gross every month? no one. They live out of their net income. --jb


I feel that as a child yes my family needed the assistance. I have grown to be a strong young lady because of this wonderful program.

But, you have to look at it because so many people feel that the government is going to be there for ever and they don't have to work. I'm twenty years old and I am the first female in my family to graduate from high school. It's sad that out of 20 females out of my family I stand alone.

I don't want to do away with Welfare but some people who receive it don't even use it for the correct reason. I know many people who sell food stamps in order to buy, well, you know. There came a time where I worked and wanted to get my own apartment and I could not because I didn't have a child. what is this world coming to?


Come on, people. Look at the facts: One in seven Americans is living below the poverty line. We can't just give it up. And as for people using it for a prolonged time, you obviously haven't done your homework. Studies show that people cycle in and out of welfare. On average, they only use it for two to five years.

Not everyone receiving it is trying to 'live off your tax dollars.' When my mother got cancer and could no longer work (I was 14, and ended up getting a job so that we could keep our welfare) we started getting food stamps and such. I'm not ashamed to say it either. I come from a good family, even though my father was never really in the picture. And we weren't white trash. My mother had a Ph.D. Cancer can really do damage to someone's life.

Enough about that. Here's another fact. You can only be unemployed for one or two years (this depends on what state you live in) to continue receiving welfare. There are also requirements for how long you have to work.

By the way, if you're going to pretend to know something that you obviously know nothing about, at least use correct wording. Your ignorance is baffling!


I think it is a good idea for the government to be helping people, except when the government uses all this money to help people, all that money is coming from us in taxes.

We pay the government all this money to help people when we wouldn't have to if we just helped people ourselves or through church organizations.

I think the government shouldn't be trying to do all this stuff to help people when it's got other work to do. The churches should be the ones who take care of the poor, like they used to.


Stop being so smug. You all have been getting welfare all your lives and just don't own up to it. All of you! It's not sometimes it's all the time. If you ever got financial aid, SSI, subsidised housing assistance, medicaid, medicare, help with prescription costs on and on. Stop being so phony.


@Laluna: I totally agree with you!


Thanks a lot. you helped me greatly with my civic orientation. Yay!


There are definitely times when some people need a little help to push them through the rough times. However, in general, welfare is not dignified, especially if it goes on for a prolonged time. Handouts eat at human dignity and drive to succeed.

So those who structure these programs need to be so aware of the consequences of their welfare decisions. It is not a magnanimous gesture if the "help" given hurts the recipient in the long run.

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