Supplemental Security Income, passed in 1972 during an innovative and expansive phase of the American welfare state, marked an effort to do welfare right. But economic and political circumstances, as well as the contingencies of the moment, all combined to turn the program into a source of controversy over such things as whether parents coached their children to act “crazy” in an effort to secure benefits or whether immigrants deserved benefits. As a result, Edward Berkowitz argued in this presentation to the Washington History Seminar, instead of marking a new departure in social policy, the program replicated many of the features of the welfare system it was designed to replace.
Edward Berkowitz, who received his doctorate in history from Northwestern University, is a professor of history, public policy, and public administration at George Washington University. He is the co-author, along with former chief Social Security historian Larry DeWitt, of The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy (Cornell University Press, 2013). Other recent books include a history of the nineteen seventies (Something Happened, 2006) and a history of mass culture in modern America (Mass Appeal, 2010). He has worked on questions related to welfare reform for the Department of Health and Human Services and the President’s Commission for a National Agenda for the Eighties.
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