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Social Welfare Policy: Introduction: The Policy Process

What is social welfare policy?

Social welfare includes healthcare, empowerment, housing and other programs geared towards assisting the poor, unemployed and marginalized in society. Such programs include Medicaid, AFDC (Aid for families with dependent children), WIC (women, infants and children) programs, veteran programs and others. 

Research areas in social welfare policy include:

  • systems of care for children/families/elderly
  • community, organization and policy development
  • race, class and gender
  • health and healthcare disparities
  • violence and victimization
  • mental health and prevention/intervention

How does social welfare policy happen?

The policy process in the American political system generally entails these steps:

  1. A bill is introduced in Congress (legislative branch). Evidence is presented to promote or oppose the bill. It is debated and voted upon.
  2. If the bill is passed into law, regulatory agencies (executive branch) begin drafting rules and regulations to enforce the law.
  3. If a law or regulation is challenged on legal grounds, the Supreme Court (judicial branch) intervenes to interpret the law or overrule it. 

This process is also influenced by non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, which include non-profits. These groups produce research that is then used to promote particular social welfare policy initiatives. Individual members of these groups may be called to testify before Congress on specific social welfare policy matters. 

Here are some examples of governmental groups that play a role in social welfare policy in the United States:

How can individuals impact federal rules and regulations?

The American public also plays a role in shaping social welfare policy. By lobbying their elected representatives, publicly commenting on proposed regulations, and protesting policies they oppose, American citizens help determine social welfare policy. Here are some ways the general populace can contribute to the social welfare policy process.

  • Learn about the federal rule making process and how to make your voice heard.

  • Become informed about the social welfare policy issues currently under consideration at the federal level of government.

  • Check out the Federal, and/or for information about proposed rules, changes to existing rules, and instructions on where to send your comments and the deadlines for the public comment period.

  • Find your chapter using the state social work association and offer your expertise to help prepare comments on proposed regulations, develop new regulations, or modify existing regulations.

  • Participate in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) advocacy efforts and policy issues

What is my role in social welfare policy?

Everyone, regardless of profession, is a stakeholder in social welfare policy.​ As a professional and scholar-practitioner, though, you have a special role. You influence social welfare policy by:

  • researching and publishing on subjects you care about

  • identifying and indicating areas where policy is needed

  • creating connections with colleagues in your field and engaging them in meaningful dialogue

  • working to your full potential and maintaining your intellectual curiosity

  • volunteering to participate in policy meetings

  • continuing to engage with the relevant scholarly literature

  • speaking out against ill-advised policy and promoting sound policy

  • putting Walden's mission of positive social change into practice