Panel Paper: Policy Feedback and In-Kind Assistance: Mapping the Landscape of Poverty, Politics and Social Welfare

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Addams (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Carolyn Yvette Barnes, Duke University and Jamila Michener, Cornell University

Popular policy narratives cast the early 1980s as the beginning of a long stretch of retrenchment in the realm of social welfare. In such accounts, the mid-1990s and the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act represent a highpoint of retrenchment. Though this perspective on the trajectory of U.S. social welfare policy is not wrong, it is incomplete in crucial ways. Much attention has paid to how cash-based assistance informs the political lives of recipients, but this line of research captures a narrow slice of the social safety net and overlooks a large and growing population of citizens who receive in-kind aid means-tested assistance. Indeed, cash assistance has declined markedly over the last two decades, while in-kind means-tested forms of aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the health care program for low-income Americans (Medicaid)--on the whole-- have expanded (in terms of both expenditures and enrollment) overtime. Research on the politics of public policy provides limited insight into the contrasting and combined effects of these programs. We take a mixed methods approach to address this limitation in the literature. First, we use ethnographic and interview data to compare and contrast program design, administration, and experiences of policy beneficiaries enrolled in SNAP, WIC and Medicaid. Then, we use large-N survey data to examine the political consequences of beneficiaries’ divergent program experiences. Ultimately, we assess how the design and administration of in-kind aid bears upon the political lives of our nation’s most impoverished denizens.