Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School


Public Policy and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Edward T. Jennings


This dissertation consists of three empirical studies that address questions regarding state welfare policy making in the post-welfare reform era. The first empirical study pays close attention to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as a federal block grant program, which is a big departure from most previous TANF studies, to ask why American states differ in their decisions to allocate federal block grants across specific programs. Drawing on research on fiscal federalism and state and cross-national welfare politics, the study uses cross-sectional time-series data covering 50 states over the fiscal years 2004-2016 to examine factors that have an impact on state child care spending under the TANF block grant. The results show that several political factors and one socio-economic factor impact states’ TANF child care spending in the hypothesized direction. Most importantly, the study finds that a specific state government’s TANF policy designed to encourage work matters in an interesting way. States’ emphasis on work of TANF recipients, measured by the existence of the TANF job-search rule, exerts a positive, independent effect on the percentage of state TANF child care spending, but the positive marginal effect of implementing the job-search rule becomes negative as the percentage of female state legislators passes 28%. The study shed lights on our general understanding of the factors that influence state allocations of federal block grants for an understudied but increasingly important policy program in the American states—child care.

The second empirical study examines whether the selection of indicators of welfare policy commitment makes any difference for the findings in studies of the determinants of state welfare policy. If so, what difference does it make? While scholars of state welfare politics have long been making efforts to find better explanations for variation in welfare policy across American states, the literature as a whole has paid little attention to how differently scholars operationalize state welfare policy even though they examine a variety of welfare policy measures. To address these questions, I estimate a series of different panel data models with different measures of state welfare commitment for the period after the welfare reform of 1996. Comparing the results across these models shows that the choice of dependent variable measures affects the estimation results, thereby suggesting that empirical findings are dependent upon the measure we use. This finding not only shows that scholars need to be cautious in interpreting their results but also opens up a new puzzle as to why a factor affects a particular welfare measure but not others.

The last empirical study addresses the question: do the effects of party politics differ across welfare policies? In answering this question, the study draws on the literature on deservingness and social construction of target populations and hypothesizes that party politics would play a differential role in explaining the generosity of different welfare policies depending on the perceived deservingness of target populations. To test this hypothesis, I estimate three models each for TANF, Supplemental Security Income-State Supplements (SSI-S), and Medicaid generosity covering the period after the welfare reform. I find that party politics still remains as an important predictor of state welfare generosity, especially where welfare policy for the deserving poor and mixed population in terms of its deservingness is concerned. Also, there are differential effects of party politics across the welfare policies examined, but sometimes in an unexpected direction. This study provides a valuable addition to the literature in that it updates and enriches our understanding of welfare politics.

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