Designing a Social-Welfare Safety Net that Supports Low-Income Workers.
The operation of social-welfare systems continues to focus on documenting program eligibility through reams of paperwork, delivering employment services through a maze of contracts, and providing other services through piecemeal public investments that need to be supplemented with charitable efforts. To improve upon these antiquated systems of social-welfare delivery, new practices of public governance that use a purposeful approach to system design, relying upon careful analysis and deployment of networks of public and private organizations, need to be employed to address important societal problems. This article uses such an approach to think through viable design options for social-welfare system reform consistent with the policy goal of making work pay for low-income citizens. This work is informed by both a three-year research project that investigated two networks of nonprofit organizations providing human services in Minnesota, and the author's professional experience within philanthropy, where private funders are working with new institutions as critical, intermediary partners to enhance service delivery for low-income Americans. The article describes current social-welfare service-delivery structures shaped by federal and state policy to implement cash assistance, work support, and other social services for the poor, and then illustrates how purposeful public investment could create and leverage network-wide resources to improve social-welfare delivery.