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Spring 2021 Reading Group

American Safety Net from the Civil War to COVID-19

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

From public assistance for Civil War widows, New Deal programs to address the Great Depression, and growing calls for a universal basic income (UBI), the concept of an American safety net and who should have access to it has mirrored American ideas and debates about the role of government and who deserves its protections. Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government provided cash payments to a broad swath of the American population and the protests over systemic racism brought new attention to proposals for cash reparations to the descendants of enslaved Americans. This reading group explores the various models for providing public benefits throughout American history, including an examination of the constitutional rights provided to beneficiaries, the role of racism and other forms of discrimination, efforts to tie entitlement to public benefits to moral judgments, and the role immigration status and disability play in determining access to our safety net. This group will invite discussion about how public benefits may evolve in the future, especially following the current pandemic. We will use a range of texts (judicial opinions, scholarly writing, and popular commentary) to explore these topics.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: March 9, March 23, March 30, April 6, April 13, and April 20.