Panel Paper: Follow the Money: An in-Depth Look at How Money Flows through the Federal Welfare System

Friday, March 9, 2018
Room 24 (Burkle Family Building at Claremont Graduate University)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lauren Davis, Pardee RAND Graduate School


The policy problem is that there too little understanding of how Federal welfare programs operate as a system, how money flows through this system and who might feel like winners and losers of the system. This study will map the Federal welfare system and the flow of resources through the system. This study will also estimate the variation in distribution of resources by urbanicity, regions and demographics. The purpose of the study is to enlighten the public policy debate on where to focus Federal resources and future research on Federal welfare reform.


The poor require core resources to live and eventually move out of poverty. These basic needs include physical and mental health care, housing, utilities, food, water, clothing, education, jobs, transportation and childcare. The poor need different amounts of these items at different times in their life cycle. Understanding how the disparate welfare programs come together to form a social safety net for the poor will help elucidate new information about this complex system. There is need to understand where the system as a whole is currently meeting or underserving the needs of the poor.

Not surprisingly, these individual welfare programs vary in organizational structure, financial vehicle (e.g. block grants), and state policies. The flow of money and resources within the system varies based on the differences in the structure of each of the welfare programs. The variations of factors within each welfare program may impact the quantity or quality of necessary resources based on household and individual’s region, urbanicity, and demographics.

Research Questions

  1. How do tax dollars earmarked for Federal welfare programs flow through the welfare system?
  2. How does the distribution of Federal aid differ by urbanicity, regions and demographics?


This is a descriptive study. To answer the first research question, I will conduct a literature review of the relevant literature and conduct informal interviews with experts in US welfare. To answer the second research question, I will utilize primary Census data such as the SIPP dataset to understand the variation in receipt of Federal aid.