Unfunded mandates occur when a branch of the United States government passes a law or bill that requires another branch to adhere to it, without providing for the costs of compliance. There are several different types of unfunded mandates, including direct orders, grant conditions and grant sanctions. Unfunded mandates also cover a variety of topics, from the insurance of nation-wide uniformity to attempts to improve standards on nation-wide issues. The many different types of unfunded mandates allow a governmental branch to ensure compliance without having to add funding to cover costs.
Direct orders require a state or local government to comply with a mandate exactly as specified. One example of a direct order is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which requires all states to ensure handicapped access to public transportation. This means that the alteration or addition of handicapped-access public transportation is required, even if a city or state has equivalent transportation options for handicapped passengers already in existence. Direct orders are usually considered to be unfunded mandates because, while they require states or local governments to comply, they do not provide the funding to do so. If a state must redesign its entire fleet of buses in order to comply, the funding must come from state taxpayers or other state funds.
Grant-related unfunded mandates require a state or region to adhere to an act or bill in order to receive or retain federal grant money. Instead of requiring the affected area to raise money directly to pay for the new regulations, these unfunded mandates allow a region to increase its federal funding by using regional funds to comply with a law. Mandates that allow a region to gain grants through the state funding of an initiative are typically known as grant condition mandates. If, instead, a state or region may lose its eligibility for grant money for failure to comply with a new law, it is usually referred to as a grant sanction mandate.
Direct orders and grant-related unfunded mandates can be used to enforce many different types of regulations. A federal minimum wage, for instance, requires that all states pay workers a minimum hourly fee, even if workers are willing to work for less. Unfunded mandates are also frequently used to enforce environmental standards, since each state may have varying environmental concerns that require widely different costs. Despite the variations in method or intent, the major common element in all types of unfunded mandates is that they require a state or local government to fully fund the cost of implementation and upkeep of the law, even if these branches have no voting right in the creation of the law.