Politics and the New American Welfare States


  • Matthew C. Fellowes,

  • Gretchen Rowe

  • We would like to thank Virginia Gray, David Lowery, Marco Steenbergen, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments; Stephen Pimpare for comments on an earlier version of this article presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the MWPSA; the American Politics Research Group for financial support; and the staff of the New Federalism project at The Urban Institute for creating and maintaining such a rich and reliable source of welfare policy information.

Matthew C. Fellowes is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of North Carolina, Department of Political Science, 361 Hamilton Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 (fellowes@email.unc.edu). Gretchen Rowe is a Research Associate in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at The Urban Institute, 2100 M St., NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Growe@ui.urban.org).


Federal law allows states to create new welfare policies determining who can receive welfare, what types of clients are exempted from new welfare work requirements, and the value of cash benefits. This project tests nine different theoretical explanations of welfare policy to explain why states have reacted differently to this new authority. We test these explanations on Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) policies promulgated between 1997 and 2000. Our findings confirm the strong role of race in TANF politics that Soss et al. (2001) recently reported, but we also find that other constituent characteristics, and institutions, paternalistic goals, and state resources have a consistent influence on welfare policy. These results indicate that different approaches to welfare are attributable to the unique, and very potent, combination of political characteristics in each state.