Federal Funding: A Delicate Balance between Flexibility and Effectiveness

During the 2012 campaign season, there was renewed focus on a topic that has arisen in recent legislation that would affect workforce development, youth development, and education systems. The idea of sending more federal money straight to states has been mentioned in presidential debates, campaign speeches, bills to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, etc. Often this strategy takes the form of distributing block grants with little to no stipulations to state authorities, who then decide how best to spend those dollars.

The obvious benefit to this type of funding model is that it provides states with maximum flexibility, so they can focus on the most relevant issues in their regions. However, there is also an inherent detriment in that many of the guidelines, concerning how such funding should be used, are stripped. Many of these rules were created as the result of a specific need. For example, populations that are most in need, such as low-income youth and young adults, are generally (1) more difficult to serve or (2) they require different types of services or a different structure of service provision. When funding decisions are made only at the state level without any targeted provisions, such groups often receive ineffective/insufficient services or not at all, even though they need the services just as much as other individuals.

It difficult to try to choose between flexibility and ensuring that everyone has access to services, as there are clear benefits to both outcomes. Therefore the question becomes what is an effective combination of these two concepts.

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