Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Mediators Between the Citizen and the State: The Role of Nonprofit Service Providers in Facilitating Demand Making

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 4:30 PM
Johnson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Carolyn Barnes, Duke University
In recent years, scholars have explored the how public policy shapes mass political behavior suggesting that means-tested and universal program communicate distinct messages about the government and political processes and divergently equip clients with the resources needed for political participation. Studies have shown that, after controlling for demographic characteristics, beneficiaries of universal programs have higher levels of political and civic engagement than recipients of means tested programs (Mettler and Stonecash, 2008; Soss, 1999; 2001). These differences in participation outcomes are largely attributed to differences in program design and the resources and incentives for participation offered through social policies (Mettler, 2002; Campbell, 2002; Soss, 1999).       

     Although the feedback research has offered insights on regarding public policies and political participation of beneficiaries, little research had investigated whether nonprofit social service providers inform demand-making on public programs and institutions.  Since the demise of AFDC, there has been a growing trend towards privatized welfare services provision (Allard, 2009). As spending for cash benefits declined, spending on welfare services, such as child care, transportation assistance and job search assistance increased.  As a result, a growing number of poor families are receiving services that are delivered by non-profit organizations.  Essentially, workers in these agencies are the new “street level bureaucrats” (Lipsky, 1980) Considerable research on private social service provision has concentrated on the emergence of the independent sector (Salamon, 1995; Katz, 2001), the quality of services provided, competitive contracting processes, the practices of service providers, and client experiences (Kissane, 2010).  However, there are very few studies that investigate how social service providers reinforce or remove barriers to public assistance for clients.

     Some scholars suggest that deterrent policies along with procedural stigma associated with applying for public assistance discourages program uptake. Similarly, other studies identify barriers to welfare receipt such as a lack of information, stigma, and labor intensive application processes (Stuber and Kronebusch, 2004). Questions remain unanswered in the literature about how nonprofits facilitate demand making on public institutions.  Under what conditions do non-profit agencies foster demand-making on public programs? How do elements of program design shape the nature of these demands?

     My proposed paper examines the implications of nonprofit social service provision on shaping public welfare claiming among clients. More specifically, I examine the relationship how two nonprofit social service providers offering childcare facilitate demand making on public institutions. Through participant observations and in-depth qualitative interviews of two nonprofit after-school programs, I find that each program uniquely serves as a mediator between parents and public systems. One program is instrumental in helping parents apply for the Child Care Assistance Program, while the other program helps parents navigate the complexities of the Chicago Public School system, mediating relationships between the parent and key school personnel and assisting parents in choosing and applying to public elementary and high schools for their children.  I find that this activity is primarily motivated by the funding sources of each program.

Full Paper: