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Welfare policy has a controversial history in American political life. Values such as personal responsibility, hard work, and family have influenced welfare legislation from colonial times to the present. Interested parties have debated the causes of poverty, sources and goals of assistance, and eligibility criteria. Broadly speaking, welfare policies fault individuals or structures for poverty; rely on private charities, volunteer organizations, or local, state, and federal governments for aid provision; and aim to assist the needy, modify recipient behavior, deter aid requests, and/or reform the welfare system. Policymakers have struggled to define aid eligibility, resulting in an implied hierarchy of deserving and undeserving recipients. The categories of deserving and undeserving have remained relatively constant since welfare's inception; what has changed are the criteria used to ...

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