Social programs, sometimes referred to as public aid or entitlements, are government programs designed to provide minimal levels of support, frequently financial, but also including health care and nutritional support, by the government. Although social programs in the United States today are frequently controversial in political circles, they date back to the Roman Empire.
The emperor Augustus first established a “corn dole” for Romans who were too poor to afford food. In China during the Song Dynasty (around AD 1000), numerous social programs were instituted, including retirement homes and pauper’s cemeteries. In England, the Poor Law of 1601 moved the responsibility of providing welfare to local churches. This law remained in effect until the 19th century, when the Poor Law Amendment Act established workhouses.
Many European nations have extensive systems of social programs, including universal health care, public pensions, housing and family paid time off from work. In the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, established much of the modern system of social programs including Social Security and various work programs. Medicare and Medicaid, health care for the poor and elderly, were established in the 1960s under President Lyndon Johnson. The term “welfare” is frequently used to describe U.S. social programs.