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Deservingness, Discretion, and the State Politics of Welfare Spending, 1990-96

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Charles Barrilleaux
Florida State University
Ethan Bernick
University of Illinois at Springfield


Are the politics of welfare policy for the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor the same? We use pooled cross-sectional time-series analyses of state government discretionary welfare spending on general assistance (GA) and Supplemental Security Income supplements (SSI-S) to address this question. We find that efforts to assist the GA population decline as electoral competition increases while efforts to assist the SSI-S population increase, providing evidence that only the deserving poor are favored by heightened political competition. We also find that SSI-S benefits rise with ideological liberalism, electoral competition, and the percentage of African Americans in a state. When considered in light of the negative effect of larger African American populations on states' SSI-S efforts, this suggests targeting of particular groups. Finally, we find that SSI-S enrollments are reduced, but the per-recipient payments are increased under state administration, suggesting that state administrators are more likely to provide more services to existing clientele than to expand their client base.

Research Article
Copyright © 2003 The American Political Science Association

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