Journal Article

Devolution and Welfare Reform: Re-evaluating “Success”

Amanda Sheely

in Social Work

Published on behalf of National Association of Social Workers

Volume 57, issue 4, pages 321-331
Published in print October 2012 | ISSN: 0037-8046
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1545-6846 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sw/sws022
Devolution and Welfare Reform: Re-evaluating “Success”

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The passage of welfare reform shifted significant authority for welfare provision from the federal government to state and local governments. Proponents of devolution point to drastic caseload declines as evidence that state-run programs are decreasing dependency among families. However, welfare rolls in many states have remained stagnant or decreased since the start of the recession in late 2007. The uneven responsiveness of the welfare system to growing economic needs prompts the question of whether the safety net is functioning as intended. This article evaluates the literature on the state and local implementation of welfare to assess whether devolution has yielded the positive outcomes promised by proponents. Findings suggest that, under welfare reform, state and local governments are enacting diverse programs and do not appear to be limiting welfare provision in new ways to avoid becoming “welfare magnets.” However, the type of program they adopt is systematically related to the racial and ethnic composition of the caseloads and the local political climate, leading to a fragmentary system in which some states and localities are more responsive than others. Social workers can help poor families in critical need of assistance by voicing these concerns at the local, state, and national levels.

Keywords: advocacy; devolution; recession; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; welfare reform

Journal Article.  6760 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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