AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: How do political institutions shape government assistance programs in the United States? I show that where the federal government provides public goods and financial assistance depends not only on who has power within Congress, but also the characteristics of their constituents. Government assistance programs allocate grants to state and local governments based on demographic characteristics. Thus, to maximize funding for their own states, legislators must also distribute funding to states with similar characteristics. Using panel data on education spending and a difference-in-differences design, I demonstrate that Senate committee chairs create programs that disproportionately benefit their states, but this benefit spills over to similar states. I then show that when chairs represent high poverty states, Congress enacts programs that better target funding to all high poverty areas. These findings suggest that scholars should consider constituent characteristics and the makeup of congressional committees when seeking to understand government assistance programs.
Leah Rosenstiel is an assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. She studies American political institutions, with a focus on Congress and public policy. Currently, she is working on a project that examines how the congressional bargaining process shapes, and at times distorts, federal grant programs.
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