Spending on Social Welfare Programs in Rich and Poor States. Final Report.. 2. Approach

07/01/2004

The site visits consisted of discussions with state officials in each of six states about state budget processes and choices involving major social programs, including TANF cash and non-cash assistance, child care subsidies, child welfare, Medicaid, SCHIP, SSBG, and others. We met with high-level agency administrators responsible for these programs, legislative aides involved in the budget process, executive budget officials, and gubernatorial staff.

Though the conversations were relatively unstructured, we began the site visits with a list of topics to be addressed:

  • Budget formulation and implementation. Do budget procedures affect budget outcomes for social programs? These states vary in the roles performed by governors, legislatures, and agency administrators. Do these differences affect spending choices? Also, under what constraints do these persons and institutions make choices (e.g., federal mandates, court directives, citizen initiatives, and revenue projections)? And, how do non-social welfare programs, such as education and corrections, impinge on budget choices for social programs? Can some programs operate with a deficit? What is done when such deficits occur?
  • Policies and spending. State policies regarding program eligibility, benefit levels, services, and time limits affect state spending on social welfare services. Yet how do these policy choices relate to the budget process (i.e., what drives what)? Are such policies routinely altered during the budget process? Or, are major policy changes made only every few years in a particular program?
  • State response to federal programs. How do changes at the federal level in major programs, such as TANF, Medicaid, child care, and child welfare, affect state funding decisions? What, for example, was the effect of greater flexibility under the TANF block grant on state budget decision-making? What weight is given to federal match rates and maintenance of effort requirements in state choices? How do work participation requirements and other performance requirements affect funding decisions?
  • Program constituencies. How important in funding decisions for social programs are organized and active constituencies, such as interest groups, industries, private service providers, public employee unions, professional organizations, or even recipients? How salient are different program areas to the media and the public-and with what effects?
  • State spending during economic booms and downturns. How did the recent economic downturn and preceding boom affect state spending on social welfare programs? How did the state use its flexibility in the TANF block grant to weather the downturn? What programs or areas of the state budget were exempt from cuts? And what programs or categories of spending were slashed?

To help answer these questions, we also collected budget documents and other materials describing the state's social programs, the agencies administering them, and budget procedures and rules. Finally, to help trace changes in state spending and make comparisons across states, we compiled and analyzed administrative data on major state programs, such as TANF, Medicaid, and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).

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