Reexamining Devolution

By Martin, Edward J. | Public Administration Quarterly, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Reexamining Devolution


Martin, Edward J., Public Administration Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

The focus of this investigation will reexamine the concept of devolution which has become the new framework for administering federal welfare policy based on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. Welfare programs are now devolved to the state programs which are titled Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Devolution became operative in Clinton's welfare policy reform which was then finally passed into law and public policy by the Republican Congress in 1996. Although Clinton had twice vetoed welfare reform bills prior to PRWORA, he and Congress finally agreed on the new welfare policy. Fundamentally, devolution attempts to pass down federal responsibilities to the states and counties. In doing this, the new TANF program replaced direct federal cash aid welfare "entitlements" through AFDC. Thus the newly implemented program:

* Established block grants with lump-sum allocations to the states for cash welfare payments.

* Granted the states broad flexibility in determining eligibility and benefit levels for persons receiving such aid.

* Limited the use of federally aided cash grants for most recipients to two continuing years and five years over their lifetime.

* Allowed states to increase welfare spending if they choose to do so but penalizing states that reduce their spending for cash aid below 75% of their 1996 levels.

* Allowed states to deny additional cash payments for children born to women already receiving welfare assistance and allowing states to deny cash payments to parents under eighteen who do not live with an adult and attend school.

THE APPLICATION OF DEVOLUTION IN CALWORKS

The California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program and its policy formulation has been dominated by the devolution movement. The assessment of welfare reform success is generally measured in the reduction in families who were once receiving assistance. However, questions remain regarding the number of families leaving welfare as a result of increasing income, and how families and children cope once they exit welfare assistance (Drayse and Flaming, 2000). Assertive efforts to reach the goals of welfare reform of eliminating "dependency" on government support through job training, actual work, and incentives to promote stable marriages should necessarily include a clear analysis of what exactly becomes of children and families once they leave public assistance.

What has been noted in the state of California (where approximately 25% of TANF recipients in the United States are located) is that as caseloads decline, County Welfare Departments (CWD) workloads have increased. This has had a slowing effect on the progress of recipients in the early stages of the Welfare-to-Work (WTW) activities--appraisal, assessment and post-assessment programs, Job Club, etc. In that the stream of recipients through the WTW system has been slow, and/or because numerous recipients have either found work or chosen not to participate in prior activities, very few recipients have entered post-assessment activities.

Likewise, referrals for continuing education, training programs, mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence have been low (Klerman, Zellman and Steinberg, 2001: 5-6).

Though the improved economy (not inclusive of the 2001-2002 recession) has helped shrink CalWORKs caseloads, there is no reliable evidence that former recipients have stable jobs that allow them to support a family (Klerman, Zellman and Steinberg, 2001). This suggests:

* Administrative data tell us that people are leaving welfare, but not whether they are better off or if they are in fact leaving welfare for work.

* California counties vary with regard to caseload size and change.

* CalWORKs caseload decline in California counties is positively related to the vitality of local economies.

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