Federalism, Welfare Reform and the Minority Poor: Accounting for the Tyranny of State Majorities
The ideals of federalism contributed significantly to the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which repealed the AFDC entitlement program and devolved broad authority to the states to design and administer programs for welfare reform. Professor Cashin challenges the federalist, a priori assumption that states are the natural situs of policy authority concerning the poor. She argues that the Act is likely to yield harmful consequences for the poor-especially the minority poor-because the political economy of state decisionmaking is more hostile to redistributive aims than is that of national decisionmaking. The Article tests the conventional normative theories in support offederalism against the empirical reality of state decisionmaking and concludes that such broad decentralization is not normatively justified. Marshaling empirical evidence of the risk of a "tyranny of the majority," by which local prudices go unchecked, Professor Cashin argues that if Congress wants to ensure that welfare reform is pursued in a manner that actually meets its core purpose of reducing welfare dependency, it will need to be more interventionist in directing state action. Thus, the Article offers an alternative vision of decentralization, arguing for a more aggressive framework of national standards or incentives that would insulate the disadvantaged poor from the tyranny of the advantaged majority. At the same time, however, the Article endorses giving states free reign on all policy design decisions beyond this level offundamental national standards, arguing that, as regards these remaining issues, the potential benefits of decentralization outweigh its potential risks to the poor.