Welfare Policymaking in the States

The Devil in Devolution

Pamela Winston

". . . meticulously researched and elegantly constructed . . . an important corrective both to the triumphalism that has overwhelmingly greeted welfare reform and to the suspect theory that lies behind it"
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Now that responsibility for welfare policy has devolved from Washington to the states, Pamela Winston examines how the welfare policymaking process has changed. Under the welfare reform act of 1996, welfare was the first and most basic safety net program to be sent back to state control. Will the shift help or further diminish programs for low-income people, especially the millions of children who comprise the majority of the poor in the United States?

In this book, Winston probes the nature of state welfare politics under devolution and contrasts it with welfare politics on the national level. Starting with James Madison's argument that the range of perspectives and interests found in state policymaking will be considerably narrower than in Washington, she analyzes the influence of interest groups and other key actors in the legislative process at both the state and national levels. She compares the legislative process during the 104th Congress (1995-96) with that in three states — Maryland, Texas, and North Dakota — and finds that the debates in the states saw a more limited range of participants, with fewer of them representing poor people, and fewer competing ideas.

The welfare reform bill of 1996 comes up for renewal in 2002. At stake in the U.S. experiment in welfare reform are principles of equal opportunity, fairness, and self-determination as well as long-term concerns for political and social stability. This investigation of the implications of the changing pattern of welfare politics will interest scholars and teachers of social policy, federalism, state politics, and public policy generally, and general readers interested in social policy, state politics, social justice, and American politics.

Table of Contents


1. Why Devolution Matters

Part I National Welfare Politics Setting the National Stage

2. Reaching the Devolution Revolution: The History of Welfare in the United States

3. The Role of "Factions" in the National Welfare Debate

Part II State Welfare Politics Welfare Politics in the States: An Introduction

4. Maryland: Welfare Policymaking in a Diverse Environment

5. Texas: Reforming Welfare in a Low-Benefit State

6. North Dakota: Welfare Reform on the Northern Plains

7. Conclusion: Welfare as We're Coming to Know It?


Appendix A: Selection Criteria for State Case Studies

Appendix B: Naional AFDC-Related Hearings during 104th Congress, by Committee,
Topic, and Date

Apppendix C: Actors and Organizations Submitting Oral or Written Testimony in Welfare-Related Hearings, 104th Congress

Appendix D: Witness Lists for Maryland Hearings

Appendix E: Witness Lists for Texas Hearings

Appendix F: Witness Lists for North Dakota Hearings


Selected Bibliography



". . . meticulously researched and elegantly constructed . . . an important corrective both to the triumphalism that has overwhelmingly greeted welfare reform and to the suspect theory that lies behind it"—Political Science Quarterly

"A refreshing and important contribution . . . Her detailed case studies provide the reader with insight into the nuance and flavor of the politics of welfare policy in ways that aggregate statistical studies of the states can seldom match . . . Winston deserves great credit for demonstrating the value of qualitative, comparative analyses of the politics of state policy processes in an era of greater devolution."—Social Service Review

"Winston's thoughtful and well-written book adds enormously to our understanding of what the 'devolution revolution' means on the ground. . . . a must read for anyone interested in state politics, welfare reform, or the barriers that poor people face in making their voices heard in decisions that affect their lives."—R. Kent Weaver, The Brookings Institution

"An elegant comparison of welfare reform at the federal and state levels. Her research powerfully shows what neo-Madisonians have long feared: advocates for poor Americans exercise less influence and have weaker voices in state political arenas."—Margaret Weir, University of California, Berkeley


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Pamela Winston is a researcher with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in Washington, D.C. She holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in political science.

344 pp., 6 x 9

Feb 2002

344 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-892-4
Feb 2002

344 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-483-1
Feb 2002

American Governance and Public Policy series
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors

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