Seeking Justice: Citizens’ Use of Fair Hearings to Correct Errors in Public Welfare Bureaucraciesedit
An understudied area of public administration is administrative hearings, used by clients to challenge denials or reductions of aid in public welfare programs. They help ensure that officials are applying the law consistently, fairly and equitably, and as intended by policy makers. Drawing on 59 qualitative interviews with public assistance clients in an urban and suburban county in New York who received notices discontinuing or reducing their assistance, this study explores why clients appeal or not and their perceptions of hearings. The findings indicate that clients’ decisions to contest agency decisions were influenced by their perceptions of how workers treated them, their reactions to powerlessness and stigma, and their social networks, especially client networks. Clients who filed appeals perceived hearings as a valuable tool, albeit one that needed improvements. Although concerned with outcomes, they also focused on the procedural fairness of the hearing and whether they had an opportunity to fully present their case to an impartial decision maker. Although some clients had difficulty navigating the appeals process, procedural fairness was possible to achieve, despite the evident power and status disparities between the parties.