The Other Welfare

The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy

Edward D. Berkowitz
Larry DeWitt
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Other Welfare
    Book Description:

    The Other Welfareoffers the first comprehensive history of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), from its origins as part of President Nixon's daring social reform efforts to its pivotal role in the politics of the Clinton administration. Enacted into law in 1972, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) marked the culmination of liberal social and economic policies that began during the New Deal. The new program provided cash benefits to needy elderly, blind, and disabled individuals. Because of the complex character of SSI-marking both the high tide of the Great Society and the beginning of the retrenchment of the welfare state-it provides the perfect subject for assessing the development of the American state in the late twentieth century.

    SSI was launched with the hope of freeing welfare programs from social and political stigma; it instead became a source of controversy almost from its very start. Intended as a program that paid uniform benefits across the nation, it ended up replicating many of the state-by-state differences that characterized the American welfare state. Begun as a program intended to provide income for the elderly, SSI evolved into a program that served people with disabilities, becoming a primary source of financial aid for the de-institutionalized mentally ill and a principal support for children with disabilities.

    Written by a leading historian of America's welfare state and the former chief historian of the Social Security Administration,The Other Welfareilluminates the course of modern social policy. Using documents previously unavailable to researchers, the authors delve into SSI's transformation from the idealistic intentions of its founders to the realities of its performance in America's highly splintered political system. In telling this important and overlooked history, this book alters the conventional wisdom about the development of American social welfare policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6733-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1972 Congress, with the active support of the Nixon administration, created a new welfare program to replace three older programs. The older welfare programs depended on federal grants to the states, and much of the policy action in terms of benefit levels and administrative rules took place on the state level. Known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the new program relied upon federal administration to provide, in the official language of the House Committee on Ways and Means, “monthly cash payments in accordance with uniform, nationwide eligibility requirements to needy aged, blind, and disabled persons.”¹

    SSI created nationwide benefit...

  5. 1 CREATING A NEW WELFARE PROGRAM: The Politics of Welfare and Social Security Reform in the Nixon Administration
    (pp. 14-43)

    By putting welfare reform on the policy agenda in 1969, President Richard Nixon started the process that led to the passage of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in 1972. Richard Nixon, a Republican, presided over a major expansion of the welfare state that, although it did not include the Family Assistance Plan (FAP) that he unveiled in 1969, did include the creation of a major new welfare program. SSI, as the program became known, marked a major change in the way that American welfare programs were administered and financed. The emergence of this program becomes clearer when it gets put into...

  6. 2 A YEAR IN TRANSITION: Why Planning for the New Program Became Difficult
    (pp. 44-72)

    If the Social Security Administration (SSA) had learned any lesson between 1935 and 1972, it was that the process of implementation mattered. New programs, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), could not be launched without extensive preparation. Part of the drill involved encouraging SSA employees that the task ahead of them was important and persuading them that it would end in success. Social Security Commissioner Robert Ball kicked off the process at the end of 1972 when he gave his employees one of his patented pep talks.¹

    Ball believed that his agency performed better when it was faced with a challenge...

  7. 3 LAUNCHING THE PROGRAM: Why the Program Began Badly
    (pp. 73-96)

    When Disneyland opened to the public on July 10, 1955, many things went wrong with the rides and other attractions, but no one seemed to mind. Disneyland became a conspicuous success in 1950s America—the perfect blend of high tech and nostalgia. When Supplemental Security Income (SSI) began operations on January 1, 1974, the program also experienced many glitches. In the case of SSI, unlike that of Disneyland, the public reacted to these glitches by proclaiming the program a failure. It seemed to mark the leading edge of a series of failed government ventures that became emblematic of the seventies,...

  8. 4 THE EMERGENCE OF A DISABILITY PROGRAM: How the Program’s Fundamental Identity Changed
    (pp. 97-124)

    In what had become something of a ritual, Social Security officials appeared before a House Ways and Means Subcommittee in the fall of 1976 to talk about the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The Regional Commissioner for New York testified about how his agency had issued leaflets in Yiddish, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Polish, Italian, German, Greek, and French informing the public about the program. He also touted the television ads advertising the program. One featured boxing champion Muhammad Ali and aired on all six New York stations. Another starred Felix Millan, the All Star second baseman for the New York...

  9. 5 THE CONTINUING DISABILITY REVIEWS: How the Politics of Controversy Hindered the Program
    (pp. 125-159)

    Just as the passage of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) tended to put an end to discussions of comprehensive welfare reform in 1972, so the 1980 disability law should have cleared the agenda. The rise in the disability rolls, which motivated the 1980 law, receded as a topic of political debate. Responsibility for the management and oversight of SSI fell back on the bureaucrats in the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the subcommittee staffs in Congress. People at the higher levels of policymaking could focus on the many other problems that demanded their attention. This peaceful scenario lasted for less than...

  10. 6 THE COURTS AND OTHER SOURCES OF PROGRAM GROWTH: How the Program Expanded in a Conservative Age
    (pp. 160-184)

    During the Reagan and first Bush years, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) operated in a manner that was out of sync with prevailing political sentiment. The program continued to grow in an era characterized by concern over the rising government debt and welfare dependency. The era culminated in spectacular growth in the number of children on the SSI rolls, the product of forces unleashed by the 1984 amendments and a 1990 Supreme Court decision.

    When General Accounting Office (GAO) official Jane Ross testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1995, she emphasized the decade-long growth in the disability rolls....

  11. 7 THE WELFARE REFORM OF 1996: How the Program Became Swept Up in the Narrative of Welfare Fraud and Abuse
    (pp. 185-219)

    In 1994 the Republicans gained full control of Congress for the first time since 1952. Only two years later, Bill Clinton became the first Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt to win a second term in office. In those three eventful political years, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) emerged as an object of political controversy that centered on three groups whose receipt of benefits came under public scrutiny. The presence of children with behavioral disabilities, substance abusers, and immigrants on the SSI rolls tarnished SSI’s image as a refuge for the deserving poor. Each of these groups figured in the extended discussion...

  12. 8 POST-1996 DEVELOPMENTS: A Brief Postscript
    (pp. 220-230)

    Although the 1996 welfare reforms marked a point of real change in America’s welfare state, Congress soon scaled back the changes in Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Congress experienced buyers’ remorse with respect to childhood disability benefits and benefits for noncitizens. Then the cycle repeated itself so that by early 2011 policymakers again raised concerns about too many undeserving children on the SSI rolls. One might argue that the SSI program went around in circles, but, as the concluding chapter of this book demonstrates, SSI developed in distinctive ways that reflected the trajectory of the welfare state in recent America.


  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-242)

    The creators of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a triumvirate of Nixon administration officials, Social Security Administration (SSA) employees, and Congressional staff members, envisioned a program that would bring the dignity of the Social Security approach to elderly and disabled people who lived in poverty. The new program had a means test, and it obtained its funding from general revenues, not a payroll tax specially designated for its use. In these regards, it remained a welfare program. Unlike other welfare programs, however, it offered a uniform benefit, payable across the country, at federal expense. Furthermore, the federal government would pay that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 243-272)
  15. Index
    (pp. 273-280)