Straining the Safety Net

Is joblessness overwhelming aid programs?
by Peter Katel, July 31, 2009

As unemployment keeps mounting, millions more Americans are being forced to rely on a network of federal and state programs to meet their basic needs. The added pressure on the so-called safety net has prompted increases in unemployment insurance payments and expanded food-stamp and welfare caseloads, authorized under this year's $787 billion stimulus package. Budget crises, however, are forcing some states to cut back on safety-net programs, including health care and meals for disadvantaged children. At the same time critics say welfare reforms enacted in 1996 requiring aid recipients to work don't mesh with the reality of today's job shortage. But supporters of the reforms say the extra spending on benefits shows the system is working. With employment growth unlikely any time soon, a renewed debate on government responsibility to the disadvantaged is gathering force.

The Issues:

* Are safety nets working?
* Are fundamental changes needed in the federal welfare program?
* Is more job training needed?

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