Welfare Reform Income and Maintenance

51st General Assembly
November l97l
Los Angeles, CA

Welfare reform is of far-reaching moral and religious significance in Jewish life if we are to achieve the scriptural objective that "There shall be no needy among you." Therefore, problems of poverty have long been a social action concern of American Reform Judaism. We have addressed ourselves to problems relating to the poor without regard to the race, religion, or national origin of the poor and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, there is developing a growing awareness that poverty afflicts many Jews as well. Recent studies and surveys of the Jewish poor indicate that there are high concentrations of Jews among poverty populations in certain areas. Many of the Jewish poor are aged persons. But there are also high numbers of young Jews -- married, single and who are welfare recipients in the aid-to-dependent-children category. It is estimated that about 35% of the Jewish poor are not in the aged category. Poverty is not a problem whose victims are only blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Indians, and other non-Jewish racial, religious, and ethnic peoples. For all of Jew and non-far-reaching changes in present programs of public assistance are imperative.

The existing public welfare system in the United States perpetrates dependency, injustice, and indignity on welfare recipients. Generations of poverty are perpetuated. Adequate welfare reform must account for and respond to the economic and social needs of poor people as its primary objective.

The welfare crisis has contributed to the urban with the result that states and local governments, separately, can neither ameliorate the poverty of the poor nor the growing poverty of America's political subdivisions. Elimination of the inequities of the present welfare system clearly calls for nationwide income-maintenance assistance if problems of poor people and poor cities and communities are going to be solved.

Welfare reform must not substitute one inadequate program for another. To fulfill the needs of the poor and of American society as a whole, adequate welfare reform should reflect principles and criteria that include the following:

  1. Income-maintenance assistance should meet the basic needs of all individuals and families in the United States who are (a) unable to work because of age, physical disability, or the responsibility of caring for dependent children; (b) able to work but are unemployed because of lack of work; and (c) working but have inadequate earnings because of substandard wages or underemployment (as in the case of workers who have only part-time employment).
  2. Such assistance should be wholly or largely financed by the federal government, with strong and clear standards of nationwide application to assure equitable treatment and uniform administration.
  3. Income-maintenance assistance should begin at or near the low-income level of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (in l97l, slightly more than $500 for a family of four) and that increases should be made as inflation occurs.
  4. Incentives and realistic aids should be provided to encourage those eligible for public assistance to move into job training and full employment. One of the goals of these programs should be to enable the maximum number of participants to reach a level of achievement that will allow them to pass the General Educational Development Tests.
  5. Protection should be provided against denial of assistance, pending enrollment in a training program or acceptance of a job and against forced acceptance of training or a job, especially for any mother who considers either training or employment to be detrimental to the well-being of her children.
  6. Supportive day care, counseling, family planning, and health and legal should be provided.
  7. Agencies administering public assistance should be required to publicize and explain rights, benefits, and qualification for entitlement in the public media.