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Multiple and Interrelated Benefits
It would be a mistake to leave the reader with the conclusion that most social policies and
social programs pursue their objectives through single benefit or service strategies. Although
there are instances of that, it is not the general case, especially in relation to programs
that intend to deal with the social problem of poverty. It is common for citizens to
think of programs like Social Security or even unemployment security as providing only
a single benefit, but in fact eligibility for one benefit form very often automatically qualifies
a person for multiple benefits. The fact of interrelated benefit packages certainly
makes the analysis of social policy with respect to benefit forms, in particular, a lively
and complex venture. It is not surprising that programs and policies should have more
than a single kind of benefit; after all, we have already seen that multiple goals or objectives
are commonplace. Where that is the case and where such goals are diverse it would
be expected that different benefit types and thus multiple benefits would occur. Lewis and
Morrison found that multiple benefits can occur in two major forms: (1) benefits from
one program can alter benefits in other programs and (2) program benefits can change
personal tax liability.6
The U.S. Unemployment Insurance (UI) program is an example of a benefit that
generates multiple benefits: eligible, involuntarily unemployed workers might receive
both a cash payment, services from the state vocational and rehabilitation service, and
referral to employers searching for workers. The purpose of rehabilitation services is
to retrain the employee and to provide trained and ready-to-work employees for employers.
Maintaining the stability of a large workforce for the economic enterprise of
the country as well as for relief of unemployment is a goal of the UI program. The
TANF program (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) is another example of a
highly complex package of benefits and services. It is difficult to elaborate because of
interstate variation, but the list that follows characterizes the most general case: a cash
benefit, a medical card, child support enforcement, special food allowance for infants
and pregnant mothers, vocational training, family planning services, and so forth. Notice
that elements in this benefit package are mostly compulsory: child support enforcement,
job searches, and/or vocational training are compulsory. In the past,
“benefits” were sometimes used punitively against clients: sterilization, family planning,
and abortion. Furthermore, some program policies automatically disqualify a recipient
from benefits from another program. We will discuss those complex examples
in Chapter 9, which deals with program and policy interrelationships.
Criteria for Evaluating the Merit of Benefit
and Service Types
Stigmatization, Cost-Effectiveness, Substitutability,
Target Efficiency, and Trade-Offs
Whenever there is a benefit to be given in remedy of a specific tangible need, it can be
given in the form of cash or it can be given it in the form of directly consumable articles
(e.g., food or clothing). The question is: “Which form is best, why, and from what point of view?” Almost all U.S. public benefits available in income maintenance programs
could be given in kind. The issue touches on more than income-related benefits. Think
for a moment about the delivery of medical care benefits and services. A cash approach
would give dollars directly to families in need, that amount equivalent to whatever was
the price of the necessary medical care. This benefit is most commonly given not in the
form of cash, but in the form of a credit or voucher—a strategy that is more related to
an in-kind benefit than a cash strategy.
Such examples serve to illustrate how the evaluation criteria apply to this general
question. From the consumer’s point of view, the major difference is the degree to which
a choice can be exercised with regard to the goods or services delivered—the evaluation
criterion we earlier called consumer sovereignty. From the benefit giver’s point of view, the
major difference is the ability to exercise control over the nature of the article and the way
it is consumed—the evaluation criterion we earlier called target efficiency. If a family needs
cheese and you give them $5 to buy it, the family can decide whom to buy it from, when
to make the purchase, under what conditions, and at what price—an example of maximum
consumer sovereignty. If you give the family a letter telling the cheese store to give
the family $5 worth of cheddar and to add it to your bill, the choices that can be made by
the family are thereby limited. But notice that from the point of view of the benefit giver
(the person who is paying for the cheese), it may be important to restrict the choices. For
example, the benefit giver may get a special price from the cheese dealer if a great deal of
cheese is purchased this way and our cheese dealer can purchase more economically if he
can count on volume sales. Not only that, the merchant knows that no advertising expense
is incurred. Thus, the benefit giver is able to help more hungry people because
cheese can be purchased for less in an in-kind, rather than a cash, benefit form. Under
this condition (but only this condition), giving the benefit in an in-kind form satisfies the
evaluation criterion of cost-effectiveness—the benefit is delivered at a cost that is effectively
the lowest relative to the other available and practical forms and means of delivery.
Note that it is also true that the benefit goes directly for the specific social problem
of concern—hunger. This is an example of the evaluation criterion called target efficiency,
a virtue here because the efficiency involved makes it possible to benefit more
hungry people. There is not much else to do with cheese except eat it, though a genuinely
imaginative person might use it to catch mice, or sell it to a neighbor at a cut-rate price,
or trade it for another commodity. And, of course, there is a well-known street trade in
food stamps.
Here are the arguments against the preceding conclusions. With regard to the
lower expense of in-kind benefits, they say, it is not entirely clear whether economies of
scale work in a way that inevitably yields a lower unit cost than cash (and, thus, generate
a cost-effective benefit form). A person can take the view that the only way to establish
a true cost is through an exchange in a free market, even a cheese market. How can the
benefit giver really know that the price charged by the cheese merchant was the best
price on that day for that amount of cheese of that particular kind? Whereas the price
quoted to the in-kind benefit giver may have been the best price the benefit giver could
have obtained that day, suppose there was a cheese crisis the day following; if the family
had cash with which to deal, they might have obtained twice as much cheese for half the
price. On the other hand, the cheese merchant may have had bad luck selling his Swiss
that week and would’ve sold twice as much to the family for half the price. (Of course, it might also have worked in exactly the opposite direction.) The same argument raises an
objection to an extension of social control via the purchase of cheese. The cost to the
family is a lack of consumer autonomy, and that makes them even more dependent and
less able to cope with the stresses of life. After all, this argument goes, independence and
self-reliance are built on experience in such small matters as deciding whether to buy
cheddar, Swiss, or mozzarella. Notice how important are the details, for it is on them
that the ultimate conclusion depends.
Notice the trade-offs operating here between the various evaluation criteria. A
trade-off occurs when the policy system has to suffer some disadvantage in order to get
another advantage. In general, benefits delivered in the form of cash increase consumer
sovereignty and reduce target efficiency. Another example of trade-offs is with regard to
programs to reduce poverty. When such programs create low unemployment (a virtue),
economists believe that they will invariably increase inflation (a vice) as more employed
workers become consumers with money to spend. Although considered by economists
to be a side effect—and certainly it is in the sense that it was not intended—it is undeniably
an important effect on the lives of most people. But then it pays to notice that
economists aren’t always right: In the 1994–1998 period of historically low unemployment
rates, inflation did not appear as economists predicted.
Somewhat more serious is the argument that the price of in-kind benefits is stigmatization.
When the consumption or acquisition of benefits is public, certain kinds of items
become associated with “being on welfare,” and negative attributions are made to those
so identified. Although someone seen eating a slice of cheddar cheese attracts little attention,
it certainly is the case that disparaging comments are made to women who spend
WIC vouchers in grocery stores (a mild form of in-kind benefit). According to Terkel,
local welfare agencies bought certain kinds of shoes and dresses during the depression,
and those who wore them were sure to inspire negative comments from others.7
Some of these objections to in-kind benefit forms do not apply in all instances; it is
surely not the case that all noncash forms stigmatize recipients—not all consumption or
delivery of the article or good is public. For example, one way to avoid public consumption
or delivery of foodstuffs in a noncash form is to use a subsidy method that was common
in England. If the U.S. government wished to increase the nutritional level of its
low-income citizens, it could subsidize the price of a popular food to the point where it
could become the least expensive, most nutritious food available (e.g., bread or milk
products). The public treasury could subsidize the bakers or grocers, perhaps 40 cents a
loaf; every month, those vendors would tote up how many loaves they sold and submit a
bill to the public treasury. In return, they would agree to sell bread for half the former
price, maybe 35 cents a loaf. Thus, the consumer gets bread at a reduction and the baker
or grocer still makes a profit. Would the consumption of bread increase? Very likely.
Would consumers be stigmatized for buying bread? Not very likely, because everyone
pays the same price. Would the benefit go only to those who “really” need it? No, because
there would be considerable “seepage” to those not in low-income brackets (again,
a question about the target efficiency criterion). Would this form of the benefit be more
cost-effective than cash? That question can be answered only through the empirical
study of increased nutrition as a result of the increased use of the subsidized foodstuffs The increase in nutrition resulting from the cash-benefit strategy would also have to be
studied and the net results of the two compared.
Note that the cost of achieving the nutritional goal is the cost of the subsidy for the
foodstuffs actually bought by the poor; the cost of the destigmatization of the in-kind
strategy is exactly the cost of subsidizing the foodstuffs bought by the nonpoor. Thus, in
this case, the exact cost of the trade-off can be specified. Those who strongly support cash
benefits argue that such a benefit form clearly has an advantage along the lines of ensuring
consumer sovereignty by means of which receivers maintain control over when,
what, and how things are bought. From the consumer’s point of view, that autonomy is a
major issue.
The Political and Public Administration Viewpoint
How does all this look from the benefit giver’s view, the perspective of the legislature,
and the public program manager? Politicians and bureaucrats have their own preferences
for benefit forms, as well as evaluation criteria of their own. Linder and Peters
think that one such is administrative complexity, for example.8
It’s only natural to expect that public administrators will value a benefit form that
is simple rather than complicated to administer. It would seem preferable to administer
a fairly simple program delivering a partial cash subsidy to the elderly to pay part of their
winter heating bill rather than administer an in-kind commodity program for the same
purpose—one in which the benefit would be gas or oil or electricity (or cow chips for
that matter), which the government owned and would deliver directly to consumers.
Think of the problems of storage, delivery, services, and all the rest. A cash benefit
places the responsibility on the beneficiary for obtaining the product needed and, thus,
avoids the administrative complexities. Or consider a program that delivers services for
severely mentally ill children. Such a program may involve such complexities as administering
income or asset tests to a wide variety of income levels (e.g., to determine
whether to charge for hospitalization); coordinating the program activities of a wide variety
of professionals; facing high costs per case and treatment strategies of uncertain
and sometimes controversial validity to consumers potentially capable of deviant and
antisocial behavior. On the other hand, the public policy may choose to deliver this benefit
in a form that simply subsidizes the costs of such services in the private sector by the
consumer. In this case, the public administrator looks to the cost issues and struggles
with determining whether charges are fair and whether services were actually delivered,
but certainly that is less complex than taking responsibility for their actual delivery. The
form taken by the benefit is determining here. Material, hard benefits are obviously
simpler to administer than personal social services, which are often intangible and often
controversial as to their effectiveness. It is quite likely that less complex practices also
entail low administrative cost, another evaluation criterion of preference to public administrators
and political figures who must account to the public in such matters.
Another evaluation criterion common to public administration and the political
context is the extent of adaptability across different kinds of users. A subsidy (equivalent to
cash) is obviously quite adaptable to different kinds of users: those who heat with gas versus electricity; those who live in apartments versus their own homes; those who live
in rural areas versus central cities. An in-kind benefit may not be so adaptable across
the diverse users in those examples. Political risk is also an evaluation criterion in this
context; for example, the level of public visibility of the benefit form may be an issue
here. The cash-equivalent subsidy for the winter heating program for the low-income
elderly is quite invisible in that such programs can be handled via the U.S. mail. Note,
however, that even if benefit receipt were visible, in this case it might be a political advantage
rather than a liability; the viewpoint in our society is that the low-income elderly
are surely “deserving poor,” and that a politician who helps them projects the
image of a social and moral conscience—good political images, no doubt. Contrast the
level of political risk via the high public visibility of a program that generates benefits
in the form of psychiatric services for severely mentally ill children. Because such children
are capable of social deviance, they can be highly visible to a sensitive public and
if the benefits (no matter how great or obvious the need for them) are delivered to a
population group that is considered deviant, the political risk is high. It is widely believed
among social historians that the popularity of mental institutions as a benefit
form for the severely mentally ill or shelters for the homeless are, in the first instance,
appealing to politicians and public administrators simply because such institutions effectively
reduce the visibility to the public (hence the political risk) of the targeted social
problem and the people who are subject to it.9
Finally, another evaluation criterion, potential for failure to reduce or soften the impact
of the social problem, should attract the attention of the reader. There are few social programs
that have an unmitigated record of success. New programs should actually be
thought of as experimental ventures and should be proposed to decision makers as exactly
that. Too many unkept promises, and too many disappointments on the part of those who
fund programs create an enduring pessimism that will come to haunt social program
providers in the future. This evaluation criterion points to that issue; surely, before politically
astute legislators make a public commitment in support of a social program, they
make calculations of their potential for failure. Those who seek funding should be prepared
to make statements about the probability for success of their program design. Furthermore,
they should also be prepared to make proposals as clear experiments on ideas
that have no history. Experimental failures are not a moral mistake; program failures, for
which success has been widely advertised, are immense political mistakes.
Criteria for Evaluating the Merit of Benefit Types:
Consumer Sovereignty, Coercion, and Intrusiveness
This section considers an evaluation criterion that is preferred by the authors/analysts:
consumer sovereignty. One argument for its generally positive effects is that it allows for
making choices—a strengths approach. The cash benefit expended contributes to the
support of the general public economy in ways that in-kind benefits cannot. Cash benefits
support ordinary businesses and ordinary employers and employees. In-kind benefits,
if they are to achieve their major advantages of economy of scale and expense
reduction, must enter a special market at the producer and wholesaler levels—certainly not the same retail market corridor used by the ordinary citizen/consumer. Support of
that market bypasses many free markets, and in a way, that costs jobs because employers
will not need the employees that are created by the additional cash demand for
goods and products. In the long run, this argument speaks to the appealing idea of creating
more employment and more taxes paid by a mechanism that remains faithful to a
cash market system; cash benefits ensure that “the consumer is king.” The point is that,
in contrast to in-kind benefits, cash benefits have capacity for welfare-expenditure reductions
just because when welfare recipients spend welfare dollars, those dollars create
some employment while in-kind benefits do not. One wouldn’t expect that
free-market advocates would prefer a welfare benefit form that takes welfare beneficiaries
out of the free market in the ways outlined before. Radical free-marketeers often find
in-kind benefits attractive on the view that in-kind benefits are socially stigmatizing
and, thus, make welfare unattractive.
Still there are those who seriously advocate for in-kind benefits. Alva Myrdal, the
1983 Nobel Prize winner in economics, is an example. Most of the arguments discussed
before can be read in greater detail in her work.10 However, Myrdal makes two other
points we have not covered previously and are worth noting because they concern cogent
arguments about their limitations. The first is that the issue of consumer choice is not
very relevant when it comes to benefits targeted primarily toward children; children seldom
exercise much consumer choice in poor families. The second is that in-kind benefits
cannot be seriously preferred where family income is not adequate in the first place.
In the last analysis, Myrdal comes out for restricting in-kind benefits to secondary needs,
nonbasic food, shelter, and clothing. With that view, then, it would seem that the kinds
of benefits Myrdal really advocates as appropriate for in-kind forms are items such as
medical care, education, perhaps clothing, and surely expert services.
The issue of substitutability of goods, also important to Myrdal, refers to the possibility
that a public policy or program the intent of which is to increase food purchases, for
example, may not do so because more food is not purchased. Instead, the family uses food
stamps to purchase the same amount of food they would have bought ordinarily; the
money released by the availability of food stamps can then be used to buy other commodities
of choice; the net gain, then, is not necessarily in food items. For example, the
socially conforming family may use the extra purchasing power to buy books or more
vegetables for the children. The less socially conforming may use it to buy illegal drugs,
clothes, or a good time. Substitutability is an important idea because it shows how the inkind
benefit, when it concerns items that are vitally necessary for survival, may not always
be an effective way of controlling the consumption pattern, amount, or kind of benefit
received. The same argument might be made with respect to the provision of vouchers
for medical care, physician prescriptions, and credit for child care or work clothing, for
example. Substitutability is probably a criterion that has wide relevance to the evaluation
of the merit of benefit forms, whatever those benefit forms might be.
Consumer sovereignty is a virtue because it works against coerciveness and intrusiveness
of government in the lives and private affairs of citizen-recipients of public benefits.
Coerciveness and intrusiveness into private lives should be conceded as an important
criteria for evaluating benefit and service types. It is important for readers to remember
that intrusiveness into private affairs can violate a citizen’s right to privacy—which itself derives from constitutional provisions. Being a recipient of public benefits doesn’t change
that. Obviously, some types of benefits and services are worse offenders than others in this
respect. The greatest potential for this offense is when beneficiaries are dependent on
public benefits for their very physical survival. That would direct us to means-tested programs
like TANF, food stamps, or SSI for the disabled or aged. Their means tests must be
repeated at intervals in order for the program administrators to carry out their responsibility
to see that beneficiaries are still actually eligible: for example, beneficiaries may be
living a shared life with a household member who is working and earning but not be reporting
it as household income. Notice that reporting it requires revelation of the beneficiaries’
personal relationships, where that would ordinarily be considered “private affairs”
were the person not a welfare beneficiary. One of the reasons means tests are objectionable
is that they cannot easily avoid this kind of intrusiveness. But notice in contrast programs
like Social Security Retirement and Disability, which are usually means tested but
only at the level of individuals, not households. No need there to be concerned about who
else is sharing a household, a bed, or an income as in TANF or food stamps.
AFDC, in particular, had a history of notorious intrusiveness. The best example is
the public welfare staff/county prosecutor “night-riders” in Newburgh, New York, who
routinely stationed themselves outside recipients’ dwellings after dark to see who came
and went. It was a county-administered program at that time and the local policy concerned
what was called the “man-in-the-house” rule: Any recipient who had a “man-inthe-
house” (anytime after dark presumably) lost her benefits (illegally as it turned out).
The point is that the eligibility rule has to do with who shares a household income, not
with who sleeps together. Besides being a violation of citizens’ privacy rights, knowing
that there was a “man in the house” doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about household
income sharing, though recipients were disentitled just on that basis. The reader
shouldn’t conclude that this is an argument against administrative rules; rather, it is an
argument about how such rules should be applied with due respect for their legality.
And it is advice to practitioners to be alert to abuses of that kind.
Of course, the reader must realize that there are social programs whose very nature
it is to intrude into private affairs, the obvious example being families whose children
are being severely physically abused. Notice that the issue there is social control
but of a kind that is legally sanctioned. Although that cannot justify just any kind of intrusion
or coercion, it is an important distinction because when the intrusion has occurred
by court order, it also means there is a way of remedying abuses through the court system
and the legally required defense attorney. In contrast, administrative, extrajudicial
coercion, and privacy intrusions occur buried in organizational privacy, without clear
and ready remedies.
Criteria for Evaluating the Fit of the Benefit/Service
Type to the Social Problem Analysis
Whatever the type of benefit, the basic question is whether it fits the social problem analysis,
that is, fits compatibly with the definition of the problem. One way to approach this
question of fit is to look at what the problem definition implies as the most prominent needs of the people who have the problem and ask whether the benefit the program delivers
is relevant to any of them. If it is not, then the benefits are clearly off target and irrelevant
to the social problem. They may even be desirable yet not a relevant benefit.
Think of an after-school recreational program for children who are disruptive in classrooms.
As desirable as this recreational program might be (perhaps it provides afterschool
hours supervision for working parents when no adult is at home), if the program
cannot make a case for some linkage with classroom behavior, then the program fails the
fitness test. Notice that you might create a fit by a design for the recreational program
that tailors itself to outcomes that are relevant to decreasing disruptive classroom behavior
in some way. That is, of course, exactly the point: If the tailoring is strong, the
program activities would likely be much more specific than just simply “recreational”—
recall that the definition of recreation is “doing what you want, when you want.”
The policy and program analyst should also look at the social problem theory and,
in particular, its derivative—the social program theory. Note that program theory will
specify some set of factors as a preferred outcome and describe how to set in motion a
chain of events (or processes) to obtain just that outcome. The benefit/service type must
be one of those events, causal antecedents likely to set this chain of events in motion.
And there must be a plausible and logical argument as to why this benefit would be expected
to have that result. That is what “fit of the benefit/service type” is all about. If that
argument is not there, then there is no fit.
There are some historical examples of bad consequences as a result of this lack of fit
with the social problem analysis. In the 1970s, federal

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