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.