Welfare: Government benefits distributed to impoverished persons to enable them to maintain a minimum standard of well-being (Jannson 39).
Providing welfare benefits to poor people has been a controversial issue throughout U.S. history. Since the colonial period, government welfare policy has reflected the belief that people are responsible for their poverty leading to the principle that governmental benefits are a privilege and not a right(Wests 310).
The term "social welfare" came into affect shortly after 1900 to replace the older phrase "Charity and Correction". In the nineteenth century, people thought of this charity as an organized benefit for the "dependent, defective, and delinquent classes"(Leiby 1978, 10). "Dependent" meant those people who had an insufficient income and no family members who felt the need to support them. They had no other choice but to turn to charity. "Defective" meant the physically and mentally handicapped or disabled who needed some supervision in order to live. And "Delinquent" meant the people who were so out of control that they needed some aid to help them. .
Before the 1900's welfare was basically charity given by the churches. Until the Great Depression of the 1930's, state and local governments bore some responsibility for providing assistance to the poor. This assistance was very low, and churches and volunteer agencies provided the most aid(Wests 311).
The New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt included new federal initiatives to help those in poverty. There were so many families that needed help during this time, so the federal government either gave funds directly to the recipients, or to the states(Gordon 1990, 13).
Between 1935 and 1996, many federal programs were established to provide additional welfare benefits. Medicaid, public housing, food stamps, and Supplemental Security Income were the key ones. Medicaid was passed in 1965 as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935.