Fiscal Effects of Block Grants for the Needy: An Interpretation of the Evidence
In 1996 the United States revamped its welfare system by eliminating the entitlement to cash benefits under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and replacing it by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Federal financing was converted from open-ended matching grants to fixed block grants. This paper reviews the evidence on the likely impact of block grants for the needy on average benefit levels, total redistributional outlays, and on differentials across states. The econometric evidence on state responses to federal incentives for spending on the needy varies enormously. An evaluation of this evidence, together with an examination of state responses to the federalization of aid to the elderly, blind, and disabled through the Supplementary Security Income program, suggests that in the long run the federal changes will substantially decrease the amount of direct cash redistribution in the United States. A reasonable guess is that average benefits to the needy will be 15 to 30 percent smaller than under current law, while total spending on cash grants could decline by as much as 35 percent. While interstate competition will act to reduce benefit differentials across states, this tendency will be offset by differential matching rate effects. An extreme ‘race to the bottom,’ with a total withering of the transfer state, is unlikely to occur. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998
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