A new vision for America’s social safety net would overcome the responsibility crisis.

When Bill Clinton said during the presidential campaign that his hope was “to end welfare as we know it,” there was a ready-made and enthusiastic consensus for change.

Eighteen months later, with the administration’s welfare-reform plan still on the drawing board, the nationwide consensus to reform America’s costly welfare system has fractured as policy experts, federal bureaucrats, and lobbyists contend with a welfare system that does not work and seems to defy repair at an affordable cost.

At ground level, the welfare system’s sorry state can be easily witnessed. “Susan,” a welfare recipient who asked that her real name not be used, has become jaded after her close encounter with welfare. She had been a law student at a prestigious school in the East when she was diagnosed with a rare disease. Dropped by her medical insurance company, she sought help from the federal government.

“If there’s a safety net out there, I sure missed it,” Susan says. “The way the system is set up, it forces you to lie unless you can live on $343 a month. If you receive assistance from somewhere else, you lose your benefits.

“From the moment I approached the system, I was treated like dirt,” Susan told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “When they answer that phone call, they make moral assumptions about who you are; that you are undeserving. One woman reached into my purse without asking. As far as she was concerned, I’d lost my right to privacy.”

She believes that if government officials would regard welfare recipients with more respect, “there would be an extraordinary change in outcomes.”

Wendell Primus, a human services policy expert with the Department of Health and Human ...

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