Title: Benefit Of The Doubt: Deservingness, Administrative Burden, And Food Assistance
Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration
Advisor: Dr. Chris Birdsall, School of Public Service
Committee Members: Dr. Jen Schneider, School of Public Service and Dr. Jeffrey Lyons, School of Public Service
Federal regulations give states flexibility to waive hourly work reporting for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) during periods of high unemployment. Unemployment does not fully predict state decisions to waive hourly work reporting in SNAP though and little is known about other factors influencing state decisions. This dissertation uses social construction theory to examine policy changes in SNAP following the Great Recession of 2008. An experimental survey found that the public opinion, especially among Republicans, is affected by the perceived deservingness of SNAP participants. Survey findings suggest that if policymakers were responsive to constituents, Republican states would be more likely to have hourly work reporting than Democratic states. An event history analysis found that policymakers were responsive to unemployment rates and the social construction of target populations, but not to the policy preferences of Republicans. These findings add to the growing field of research on changing social constructions and administrative burden in policy design, while raising many more questions about the relationship between politics and administration.