Welfare and Federalism
Loyola Law Review, Vol. 36, pp. 1-53, 1990
54 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2010
Date Written: 1990
For decades the rhetoric of federalism has been an important part of the debate over welfare reform. The alignments were predictable. Anti-big government conservatives argued for state and local control over welfare programs arrayed against New Deal liberals seeking federal funding and control.of those programs.
Considering the predictable nature of these alignments and the stereotyped quality of most federalism rhetoric, skeptics might argue that this is an arena in which “the emperor has no clothes” on either side of this debate. I argue that this skepticism is partially, but only partially, justified. References to state or federal control serve as a proxy for a variety of underlying normative concerns - concerns that should indeed be taken seriously. Too often these concerns become detached from the empirical realities of life. Thus, the abstractions comprising the rhetoric of federalism serve to mask conflicts and lead us to apply our normative concerns to an idealized eighteenth century world, instead of our own. Rhetoric is substituted for hard thinking.
After pulling apart the rhetoric of federalism I attempt to deepen the reader’s understanding of our underlying concerns in two ways. First, I review the historical development of one program - Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) - and apply the concerns underlying federalism arguments in light of that experience. The lesson I draw is that neither federal nor state control necessarily protects the concerns underlying federalism, and either can lead to results inconsistent with those concerns.
Second, I consider the arguments for federal control of welfare in light of empirically based theories about the circumstances that will produce federal or state control over welfare functions. I conclude that federal control may indeed be linked with more generous programs, but supporters of federal control must reconceptualize the images and realities of welfare programs and emphasize the ties between welfare and economic development to achieve more generous welfare benefits on either federal or state level.
Keywords: welfare, federalism, rhetoric
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