Many Republicans argue that a truly conservative welfare state would focus resources on individuals and families who genuinely require a helping hand, while limiting assistance to claimants who would properly be doing more to help themselves. The compassionate conservative project can claim a few genuine achievements, most notably PEPFAR. On the whole, though, conservative politicians and political majorities are not following through on what honorable figures such as Michael Gerson and Jack Kemp aspired to do.
Consider, as I did today in the New Republic, what’s happening in one arena: that of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Intellectually disabled Americans living in modest group homes or living with aging parents in their family homes may be the paradigmatic population of worthy people whom compassionate conservatives would wish to help. Americans across the political spectrum have opened our hearts to offer practical help to the intellectually disabled and to their caregivers.
This help can be costly. Moreover, states have considerable latitude to maintain or to cut these services. So states have faced a gut-check moment during the current economic and fiscal crisis in deciding whether and by how much to cut I/DD services. It’s been a show-don’t-tell moment regarding what politicians and citizens really believe about the size, scope, and proper financing of American government.
The below scatter plot shows the results. The vertical axis represents states’ “fiscal effort” deployed to finance I/DD services. Here fiscal effort is defined as dollars per $1,000 of state personal income. It’s not a perfect measure, but it’s a valuable one.
The pattern is clear. In both the level and the change in public spending to assist the intellectually disabled, liberal states do notably more. Some bright red states—Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, for example—are doing notably little. for more, see here.