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United States v. Lopez, the court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which banned gun possession in school zones.
243.3 INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONSHIPSThe national government’s ability to achieve its objectives often requires the participation of state and local governments.Intergovernmental grants offer positive financial inducements to get states to work toward selected national goals. A grantis commonly likened to a “carrot” to the extent that it is designed to entice the recipient to do something.On the other hand, unfunded mandatesimpose federal requirements on state and local authorities. Mandates are typically backed by the threat of penalties for non-compliance and provide little to no compensation for the costs of implementation. Thus, given its coercive nature, a mandate is commonly likened to a “stick.”The national government has used grantsto influence state actions as far back as theArticles of Confederation when it provided states with land grants.Federal cash grantsdo come with strings attached; the national government has an interest in seeing that public monies are used for policy activities that advance national objectives.Categorical grantsare federal transfers formulated to limit recipients’ discretion in the use of funds and subject them to strict administrative criteria that guide project selection, performance, and financial oversight, among other things. Medicaid and the food stamp program are examples of categorical grants.Block grantscome with less stringent federal administrative conditions and provide recipients more flexibility over how to spend grant funds. Examples of block grants include the Workforce Investment Act program.
25The national government has greatly preferred using categorical grantsto transfer funds to state and local authorities because this type of grant gives them more control and discretion in how the money is spent. There are a couple of reasons that categorical grants are more popular than block grants despite calls to decentralize public policy. One reason is that elected officials who sponsor these grants can take credit for their positive outcomes. Another reason is that categorical grants afford federal officials greater command over grant program performance.A common criticism leveled against block grantsis that they lack mechanisms to hold state and local administrators accountable for outcomes, a reproach the Obamaadministration made about the Community Services Block Grant program. Block grants have been championed for their cost-cutting effects. By eliminating uncapped federal funding, as the TANF issue illustrates, the national government can reverse the escalating costs of federal grant programs.