Assessing Need in the United States, Germany, and Sweden: The Organization of Welfare Casework and the Potential for Responsiveness in the “Three Worlds”

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An ongoing challenge for the administrative state is balancing the programmatic values of responsiveness and accountability. Few studies have examined these policy issues cross-nationally for social assistance, a needs-based form of income support where these tensions are especially significant. Based on street-level case studies, this article demonstrates persistent diversity among welfare states in how these programmatic tradeoffs are made, contrasting a U.S. approach that emphasizes programmatic control via a bureaucratic, flat-grant system, with German and Swedish programs in which individualized assessments of need are a core organizational task. In each European case, legal frameworks, expertise, and work arrangements have evolved in nationally specific ways to contend with the challenges frontline discretion poses to program integrity.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, San Francisco

Publication date: July 1, 2007

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