Shanta Pandey and Shannon Collier-Tenison




Welfare Reform: An Exploration of Devolution

In the early 1990s, devolution of power to administer social programs and services in the United States occurred from the federal to state and local governmental units. Devolution (the transference of rights, powers, or responsibility to another, especially the surrender of powers to local authorities by a central government) has proved to be a divisive issue in the United States. Supporters of devolution argue that governmental units that are closer to the people (whether state or local) are more knowledgeable about and better positioned to respond to people’s needs and challenges with greater imagination and insight than are federal units. Those who oppose devolution contend that block granting of welfare programs to states is based on inaccurate premises and will hurt the poor and the nation at large. The authors address the following questions: How does the decentralization of welfare administration responsibilities to states and local governments fit within the context of evolution of welfare programs and services in the United States? Why did state and local political units support the welfare devolution legislation of 1996? How does this differ from earlier governmental moves to decentralize power? What is the true function of welfare in the U.S.? Are certain governmental units better suited to undertake the responsibility of welfare administration than others? Finally, what are the limitations of the welfare legislation of 1996?

social welfare, welfare reform — United States, decentralization in government, equality — inequality, poverty, public welfare — United States

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 28, No. 1 (2001): 54-75