Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We've Moved - New PolicyforResults Blog!!!

We are excited to announce that we have a brand new blog! Our new blog is housed on our newly designed PolicyforResults website.  Don't worry - we've moved our old content over so you can still read and comment on the policy posts found here. And, there will be even more new information on the new blog!
There will be a lot of new content and updated data coming soon! Come and visit!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Children and Families

While the government shutdown is well into its second week, it is important to keep in mind the devastating consequences that are continuing to impact the most vulnerable children and families. Though programs that directly ensure public health and safety have avoided the spending freeze, including Medicaid and Social Security, most of the programs that are affected are still vital supports and services that help sustain young women and children, low-income families, and the elderly.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides temporary financial assistance to help pregnant women and families pay for food, shelter, utilities, and expenses other than medical costs, has stopped awarding new funds, however states have the option to continue providing benefits with state dollars. Since TANF provides significant services in addition to cash assistance, such as GED preparation, vocational training, postsecondary education, vocational rehabilitation, help with child care, work stipends, job retention services and more, discontinuing the program during the shut-down – particularly if it continues for much longer - would be a devastating for families in need.

Head Start programs will also be affected by the shutdown—a total of 23 programs serving 19,000 children will be affected as their grants begin to expire. Those cuts are in addition to the 57,000 children pushed of Head Start as a result of the sequester, on top of a $400 million mandatory cut to the program nationwide. The longer the shutdown continues, the more Head Start programs and young children will be adversely impacted.

Implications of the government shutdown to nutrition programs are equally alarming. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps over 47 million low-income Americans, will continue providing benefits, but only until the end of October. States have the option of continuing the SNAP program through 2014, but the $2 billion available for contingency funds that would be used to compensate the loss of funding would not be enough to support the program in the long-term, since SNAP provides about $6 billion in support to families per month.

The Special, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which assists over 9 million at-risk mothers, infants, and young children in accessing healthy food, nutrition information, and health referrals, will also continue until the end of October. Like SNAP, most states have funds to continue WIC for a week or so, but the program won’t be able to continue for very long, with emergency funds running out by the end of the month.

The impact on supplemental nutrition programs is also impacting the elderly. Senior Nutrition Programs have stopped as a result of the shutdown. The Department of Health and Human Services can no longer fund Meals on Wheels, which provides more than one million home-delivered meals to seniors who need them each day. This crucial service has also been impacted by the sequester, which is discussed in this previous post.

The government shutdown is risking the basic supports and services low-income families need to survive. Although there are emergency funds to continue certain programs in the meantime, the long-term consequences will be harmful and widespread. State policymakers should use their discretion to continue the programs that can provide supports and services to vulnerable families; however, the only sustainable solution is for the government to go back to work in serving children and their families as soon as possible to minimize the impact.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Poverty and the Brain

Recent findings show that living in poverty, and the mental strains associated, can impede proper brain functioning. A series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom concluded that living in poverty can tax the cognitive abilities of anyone experiencing it and that those cognitive abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears. In essence, the research found that poverty imposes such a substantial burden that people living under those circumstances have difficulty making important decisions.

Previously released studies showed a correlation between poverty and “counterproductive behavior.” For example, these studies found that the poor are less likely to have preventative health care, fail to adhere to drug regimens, are tardier, and less likely to keep appointments. These behaviors can deepen poverty; however, previous explanations have only focused on the impact of environmental conditions as an explanation—predatory lenders in poor communities may create high interest rate borrowing, and unreliable transportation can cause tardiness and absenteeism. Other studies have focused on what they deemed the “characteristics of the poor,” for example lower levels of formal education that can create misunderstandings about contract terms, and less parental attention that may influence the parenting style of the next generation.

The research recently conducted at Princeton, Harvard, and Warwick is dedicated to a different explanation of poverty, one which focuses on the mental processes required for living in impoverished conditions. Their findings suggest a strong relationship between poverty and mental functioning. The poor must deal with having an inconsistent stream of income, juggle expenses, and are often forced to make difficult compromises, and these everyday occurrences can be distracting. Constant worries about budgetary concerns diminish the cognitive resources available to make thoughtful choices and actions-restricting the ability of people living in poverty to provide full consideration to problems that arise. The findings show that the mental burden of poverty is equivalent to losing 13 IQ points, which is the same as losing an entire night of sleep and is comparable to the cognitive difference observed between chronic alcoholics and “normal” adults.

As the report states, “Being poor means coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.” The importance of this research indicates that the problems associated with the poor are not actually within poor people themselves, but with anyone who finds themselves living in poverty. These findings have important policy implications—policymakers should create strategies and solutions that reduce and avoid cognitive taxes on the poor. Policies focused on alleviating poverty through raising the minimum wage as California recently did, help to address some of the institutional factors impacting poor families across the country. Other policies, which mitigate the effects of poverty, such as food assistance and health care are also ways to assist families trying to make ends meet.

In response to the recently released poverty data, it is important to keep in mind how many people are living within these conditions. Federal budget issues such as the maintained sequester cuts, totaled at a reduction of $986.3 billion in overall discretionary funding, are detrimental to the families that depend on these supports and services to survive.  This not only impacts parents and their children financially – but also cognitively.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Far-Reaching Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

September is National Recovery Month, a time to promote the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders, celebrate people in recovery, laud the contributions of treatment and service providers, and promote the message that recovery in all its forms is possible. Nowhere is this emphasis on recovery more profound and necessary than for families involved with the criminal justice system, because of the far-reaching impact that incarceration has on parents, their children and future generations. Nonviolent offenders with drug-related charges would be much better served by drug treatment rather than mandatory minimum sentences, which do little to rehabilitate individuals or to increase public safety.  In fact, incarceration can have the opposite effect.

In line with this view, last month Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Justice Department would cease pursing mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.  Citing racial disparities, prison overcrowding as well as the related economic and social impacts, Holder questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the "war on drugs," saying that excessive incarceration has been an "ineffective and unsustainable" part of it.

In their article in the Future of Children, authors Christopher Wildeman and Bruce Western compiled multiple sources of research to describe the intergenerational effects of imprisonment on inequality. Research on adult men suggests that imprisonment diminishes their earnings, disrupts their romantic unions, and compromises their health. Likewise, the imprisonment of a partner, on average, compromises the well-being of those who are left behind. Parental incarceration has been linked to increased physical aggression in boys, and criminality and delinquency throughout the life course.

Many studies have considered the consequences of parental incarceration for children’s behavioral problems more broadly. Having a parent incarcerated causes children of all ages to express a mix of internalizing behaviors, such as being anxious, depressed, or withdrawn, and/or externalizing behaviors, such as acting out or having temper tantrums. The internalizing behaviors tend to occur in older children, but the externalizing behaviors hold across the life course.

Not only does parental incarceration affect children’s behavior, but it is associated with other social problems that can lead to severe marginalization in childhood and adolescence. Children of incarcerated parents are at elevated risk of homelessness, foster care placement, and infant mortality. Maternal incarceration may have even more substantial effects on foster care placement than paternal incarceration does, a risk especially high for African-American children.

In an effort to keep families together whenever possible and to further the action taken by Attorney General Holder, policymakers can support several policies that will decrease children’s exposure to having a parent incarcerated:
  • Limit prison time so that nonviolent drug offenders are not needlessly exposed to the psychological damage of incarceration, are free to work and earn an income, and spend time with their families.
  • Provide effective drug treatment for nonviolent drug offenders to support their recovery, enabling them to improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.
  • Identify and address substance use disorders early on. Research shows that for every $1.00 invested in prevention and early treatment programs, $2.00 to $10.00 could be saved in health costs, criminal and juvenile justice costs, educational costs, and lost productivity.

Providing drug treatment is a family strengthening policy that rehabilitates individuals, promotes the integrity of the family, and furthers  the justice system’s goal of public safety. For more policies related to reducing incarceration, including promoting workforce strategies for reintegrating ex-offenders, see It is also important to consider alternatives to detention for juveniles.  Brain science has shown that juveniles are resilient and are very likely to be successfully rehabilitated with appropriate interventions.   Many juveniles are also parents, and thus strategies to reduce juvenile detention will prevent the youngest generation from inheriting the stressors associated with the incarceration of their young parents.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Look at the 2012 American Community Survey Data & Three Cities

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Community Population Survey, in 2012 46.5 million people lived in poverty – 16.1 million of them children. The report showed that Black and Hispanic families continue to have disproportionally higher poverty rates and lower incomes than White families.

While the national data provide a sense of the magnitude of poverty and disparities in the U.S., it is often difficult to imagine what that means for communities. However, the subsequent American Community Survey (ACS) data - which was released today - provides a more detailed look at demographic characteristics in cities and states. 

CSSP believes that place matters and strongly impacts the health, safety, educational and employment opportunities of children and families. We work in a number of communities that face significant challenges due to years of disinvestment, including unemployment, failing schools and housing instability. These communities are trying to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing these issues. The ACS data highlight some of the significant obstacles in place.
  • California is one of only three states that has seen an increase in poverty since 2011. In 2012 Fresno, CA – a recipient of Promise Neighborhoods planning grant and a Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) grant – faced a poverty rate of 31.5 percent, up from 28.8 percent in 2011. In Fresno, nearly half of all Black residents (47.1 percent), 30.1 percent of Asian residents and 38.1 percent of individuals identifying as Hispanic lived in poverty.
  • Though median incomes in the state of Wisconsin remain unchanged in 2012, residents of Milwaukee, WI – a BNCP grant recipient –  continue to experience an unacceptable level of disparity. More than 42 percent of Milwaukee’s children lived in poverty, including 55.2 percent of Black children. An immense gap remained across income levels as the median household income for Black families was $24,994, compared to $45,268 for White families.
  • Tennessee’s poverty level in 2012 was not statistically different from the 2011 rate. In Memphis, TN – also a BNCP grant recipient – 28.3 percent of residents lived in poverty including more than a third (33.6 percent) of Black residents and 14.7 percent of White residents. In Memphis 27.1 percent of households relied on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits at some point in 2012. 
The data released today provide a snapshot across several indicators and capture information that can be used to make informed public policy and funding decisions – critically important in the midst of sequester cuts. State and local poverty rates can only be significantly and sustainably reduced if opportunity gaps are addressed. A growing number of communities are learning how to help policymakers better understand what is actually happening in their neighborhoods and the kinds of resources required to address local needs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2012 Poverty Data: New Data from the U.S. Census on Poverty, Income, and Health Insurance.

Earlier today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2012 data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage. For the second consecutive year, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty at the national level were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates—the poverty rate remained at 15 percent – amounting to 46.5 million people living in poverty. While there was not an increase in the poverty rate, the 2012 data still indicated significant racial disparities in both poverty and income. The poverty rates among non-Hispanic Whites and Asians were 9.7 percent and 11.7 percent respectively, while the poverty rates for Blacks and Hispanics were 27.2 percent and 25.6 percent respectively.

Poverty and Income Data Highlights
  • The percent of people in deep poverty, with incomes below 50% of the poverty threshold, remained at 6.6 percent from 2011, which is still a substantial increase from the 5.2 percent rate seen in 2006 and 2007 (prior to the recession) and even from the data collected in 1967 where deep poverty was at 4.4 percent.
  • The poverty rates for children, those under the age of 18, was 21.8 percent, not statistically different from 2011.
  • Median household income in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different from the 2011 median income of $51,100.
Health Insurance Data Highlights
  • The percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased to 15.4 percent from 15.7 percent between 2011 and 2012, while the number of uninsured people in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 48 million people.
  • The percentage and number of people covered by government health insurance increased to 32.6 percent and 101.5 million people in 2012 up slightly from 32.2 percent and 99.5 million people in 2011.
  • The percentage of Asians and Hispanics without health insurance decreased from 16.8 percent and 30.1 percent to 15.1 percent and 29.1 percent respectively.
  • The percentage of uninsured children decreased from 9.4 percent to 8.9 percent in 2012.
Safety Net Programs
  • Unemployment insurance was able to raise 1.7 million people out of poverty in 2012.
  • Social Security income helped 15.3 million people aged 65 and older out of poverty in 2012 – if these payments were excluded - it would quadruple the number of elderly people living in poverty.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while not included in the poverty calculations used for the data today, if considered, would have reduced the number of people in poverty by 4 million people in 2012.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) also reduced the number of children classified as living in poverty in 2012 by 2.9 million children.
The Important Role of Public Policy. Public policy helps create pipelines of educational opportunity and new jobs. It also creates the supports and services that help poor individuals and families while they work toward those opportunities. As evident in the data, the most noticeable statistic changes that occurred in 2012 were in health insurance coverage – with the number of uninsured children dropping from 9.4 percent to 8.9 percent in 2012.  This demonstrates the critical value of policies that make a public investment in children and families. Public investments have proven to have a real impact on reducing poverty – and subsequently improving the quality of life for millions of children and families. Unfortunately, the $85 billion in cuts to supports and services as a result of sequestration are likely to only exacerbate the conditions of poverty and increase the percentage of those living in unacceptable conditions – unable to meet their basic needs.

The Need for a Focus on Equity. The racial disparities in the poverty data indicate that Black and Hispanic families have continued to have disproportionately higher poverty rates and lower incomes compared to White families, which has been consistent for more than three decades. This inequity shows the need for innovative solutions and public investments aimed at supporting real change.  Policy strategies should take into account the existence of disparate opportunities and outcomes—attention to equity creates solutions that best meet the needs of the entire community.

To read CSSP's Statement on the New Poverty Data and Implications for Children and Families please click here.

More from our blog: a primer on poverty measurement and the Census instruments used.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A New Well-being Resource! Webinar Recording: Raising the Bar: Child Welfare's Shift Towards Well-Being

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing awareness about the poor developmental outcomes for children and youth in the child welfare system. The recognition of the need to improve well-being as a central focus of child welfare’s work has grown from an understanding of the importance of early childhood and adolescence in shaping outcomes, and the impact of toxic stress on the development of children and youth.
To address the importance of focusing on well-being for children and youth in the child welfare system, SPARC and the Center for the Study of Social Policy hosted a webinar on Thursday, September 12, 2013. 
Speakers included:
  • Clare Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Amy Templeman, Well Being Supervisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Carla Perkins, Well Being Education Supervisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Aisha Hunter, Trauma Grant Specialist, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Julie Fliss, Supervisory Planning Advisor, Office of Well-Being for the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency;
  • Dr. Cynthia Tate, Deputy Director, Office of Child Well Being, Illinois Department of Children & Family Services
To  watch this webinar please click here.  To read the corresponding policy brief co-released by SPARC and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, click here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making Higher Education More Affordable

Over the past couple weeks, affordable education, and the Obama administration’s related policy proposal, has been a highly publicized area of interest. In the new economy, higher education is an important investment for students working to ensure opportunities and success for their future.  A good example of this can be seen through the unemployment rate—it is a clear indicator of the benefits of higher education—showing considerable variation based on education status. For individuals with just a high school diploma, the unemployment rate in 2012 was 8.3%, as opposed to individuals with a bachelor’s degree at just 4.5%. Median weekly earnings also jumped to $1,066 for those with a bachelor’s degree, compared to $652 for those with only a high school diploma. The new job market is transitioning into a higher skilled workforce, and anything less than a college degree is frequently insufficient to maintain a position within the middle class.

However, the costs of higher education limit who can access these benefits, often leaving low-income families far behind. Many families are forced to choose between a heavy student debt load or skipping college altogether.  College is too important a benefit to professional success and financial security for this to be a decision that families have to make.

According to the White House Fact Sheet on the President’s Plan to make college more affordable:
  • The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250% over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16%.
  • Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25% to 47%.
  • The average borrower is now graduating with over $26,000 in debt.
  • Only 58% of full-time students who began college in 2004 earned a four-year degree within 6 years.
  • Loan default rates are rising, and too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.
As part of the Obama Administration’s plan for a Better Bargain for the Middle Class, there have been three alternatives proposed to make college more affordable: pay for performance, promote innovation and competition, and ensure that student debt remains affordable. Paying for performance includes tying financial aid to student outcomes instead of enrollment rates, in addition to identifying colleges that do the most to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance.This information will be available on a college “scorecard.” The administration plans to spark innovation and competition by highlighting colleges where innovations are enabling students to achieve good results. Lastly, the “Pay as You Earn” plan caps federal student loan payments at 10% of discretionary income, so students have more flexibility in managing their debt.

Although these alternatives offer some promise and developing new solutions is a step in the right direction, more policies and programs to increase affordability for college are necessary for students, especially those who are first-generation, those who come from disadvantaged circumstances, students with disabilities, and many others who come from non-traditional backgrounds.  

For results-focused state strategies aimed at increasing college completion, visit

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where we are now 50 years later--The March on Washington

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington that took place last Wednesday highlighted significant areas of progress, while also drawing attention to the advancements that still need to be made. Although there are many reasons to celebrate, including equal access to public accommodations, laws against racial discrimination and employment and African American voting rights as a result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hard economic goals of the march that were critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans have not entirely been achieved.
In fact, there are growing economic divides, and despite the important protections established through the law, discrimination has taken new forms. Fifty years after the march, and 45 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, major banks still discriminate on the basis of race through predatory practices and lending activities. For example, an investigation into the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, found that the bank charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Another concern related to housing can be seen when you look at the population in homeless shelters. African Americans make up 40 percent of the population living in homeless shelters, while comprising of only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
The inequality extends to other areas of financial security – including other types of assets and income. In the last 30 years, there has been no significant progress in closing the gap between the income of African Americans or Hispanics and white Americans. In 2011, the median income for African American families was $40,495, just 58 percent of the median income of white families. By 2009, the median wealth of white families was 20 times that of African American families. The Great Recession also had a disproportionate impact on African Americans—the median wealth among African American households dropped by 53 percent between 2005 and 2009, and the poverty rate increased to 27.6 percent by 2011, 3 times the poverty rate for white households that year at 9.8 percent. About 65 percent of African-American children live in low-income families—45 percent of which live in communities with concentrated poverty, as opposed to 12 percent for white children. Living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty can significantly impact the lives of children and their families.  Concentrated poverty is closely linked with many social and economic challenges, including behavioral problems in young children, higher crime rates, and environmental hazards that impact health.
Discrimination is also still prevalent in the job market. Research shows that applicants with “African American sounding” names get 50 percent fewer calls for interviews, and are twice as likely to be unemployed. In 2012, the African American unemployment rate was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, and even higher than the national unemployment rate during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 (13.1 percent). 
Despite being the land of opportunity, many young children growing up in America are dependent on their parents’ income and education to determine the probability of their success into adulthood. Unfortunately, discrimination and lack of education and job opportunity is often persistent from one generation to the next, which limits the opportunities for improving future outcomes. The good news is – there are ways for public policy to begin to address the inequities that still exist. In keeping with the progress that has already been made, improving equitable access to decent housing, maintaining high-quality, integrated education, creating opportunities for equitable early childhood initiatives and creating a federal jobs program for full employment are all policy options aimed at advancing equity. To read the report on The Unfinished March by the Economic Policy Institute, click here

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Impact of the Sequester on Head Start

The on-going effects of the federal sequester are continuing to hit low-income children and families the hardest. As a result of the mandatory $400 million cut, Head Start programs this school year will eliminate services for 57,000 children, 1.3 million days from Head Start Center calendars will be cut, and 18,000 employees will have to undergo layoffs and reduced pays. These changes will affect tens of thousands of poor families across the country who rely on Head Start for early learning programs, day care, and a network of social services and medical care.

Some Head Start centers are trying to minimize the impact as much as possible by cutting administrative costs and support services, but the effects are still unfavorable. For example, Head Start in Arlington County, Virginia is reducing their bus services this year, which means that many children will no longer have a reliable form of transportation to make it to class. Other Head Start programs are shortening their school year or the school day. The latest figures show that 18,000 program hours will be cut next year by centers that will start later in the day or end earlier. The cuts also force Head Start programs to lay off staff, reduce hours, and reduce benefits.

While some places are reducing services and staff, most programs have had to completely cut their services to children. In California and Texas, services were cut to 10,000 children combined. Virginia has trimmed nearly 1,200 spots, Maryland cut 460, and D.C. is reducing participants by 100. Nationwide, these cuts compromise 6,000 children in Early Head Start, which is designated for infants and toddlers up to age 3, and another 51,000 in Head Start programs. 

Some locations have been able to use local funds to compensate the drop in federal funding to maintain the level of service, and more affluent communities or outside organizations were able to fill-in for the loss, which is the primary reason why the budget cuts were not as dramatic as the initial projections; however, these solutions are not sustainable.

In addition to the important educational benefits for children in Head Start, the program also allows low-income families a form of quality daycare that they otherwise would not be able to access or afford. The exorbitant costs of daycare force many parents, and mothers in particular, to decide whether or not working is even affordable. Many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs. For instance, daycare can cost up to 30% of one income in a two-salary couple and is the greatest expense for low-income households surpassing both food and housing. In New York, costs of daycare can average $25,000-$30,000 per child—higher than the cost of a year of public college.

The effects of sequestration on Head Start programs are devastating for low-income children and families nationwide.  It is essential to keep in mind that public investments in the health, welfare, and education of young children and their families have significant positive returns on investment, but the sequester is clearly eliminating lifelines.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Paid Family Leave: Promoting Economic Stability for Children and Families

The opportunity to take leave from work when needed is of crucial importance to working families. Most people, regardless of gender or whether they have children, need to take time off from work for medical, family or other personal reasons at some point during their careers. Any family could face a serious injury or illness and need time off to focus on medical needs – and should be able to do so without fear of losing their jobs. Women who give birth require time off from work for both the birth and recovery – and regardless of whether they have given birth, parents also naturally wish to take time to bond with a new child. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, bonding with caregivers is crucial for children’s health and well-being and has lifelong effects on their physical and mental health.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for serious illness, a sick family member, or to bond with a new child. However, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, about 40% of workers are not eligible for leave under FMLA. Such workers are at risk of losing their jobs when they need to take time off for medical or family reasons. Even when workers are eligible, the law is often underutilized because many workers can’t afford to take time off without pay.

Many low-income workers have two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet. However, part-time employees generally do not receive benefits such as health insurance or paid leave, so the workers who can least afford a loss of income are the least likely to have paid family leave or even paid sick days. Many low-income workers lose all income while on leave. Millions of workers who need leave for medical or family reasons either struggle to make ends meet while on leave or are unable to take leave at all because they can’t afford the loss of income.

Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by lack of access to paid sick days or family leave. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, Black and Latino workers are significantly less likely than white or Asian workers to get paid sick days or paid family leave. A Latino worker is almost half as likely as a white worker to receive paid family leave.  Latino workers are also less likely to receive paid vacation days, a benefit provided to over 60% of Asian, Black and white workers.

This summer, Rhode Island became the fourth state to pass a paid family leave law. The Temporary Caregiver Insurance Bill (H.B. 5889, S.B. 231) expands the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance benefits to workers who need to take time out of work to care for a family member or bond with a newborn or newly-adopted child. The expanded benefits will be funded through additional employee contributions of approximately 0.075% of their income to TDI. For a worker earning about $40,000 a year, this would mean he or she would pay 64 cents a week to participate in the expanded benefit. 

California was the first state to pass a paid family leave policy. An evaluation found that most employers report that paid family leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity (89 percent), profitability/performance (91 percent), turnover (96 percent), and employee morale (99 percent).  The evaluation also found that abuse of the policy by employees was rare. Low-income workers who utilized the paid family leave policy had much higher levels of wage replacement during their leaves and were more satisfied with the length of their leaves than low-income workers who did not use the benefit. In addition, female workers who were breastfeeding that used paid family leave also breastfed their babies for twice as many weeks on average as those who did not use paid family leave. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, paid family leave is a crucial support for breastfeeding mothers. The United States’ Surgeon General has stated that “[o]ne of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed”.

New Jersey has enacted a similar policy, which has allowed over 80,000 workers to take family leaves averaging 5. 2 weeks with partial wage replacement. As in Rhode Island, paid family leave insurance policies are funded by worker contributions—much like unemployment insurance—amounting to less than one-half of one percent of wages. The Washington State legislature passed a paid family leave law in 2007, but the benefits have not gone into effect yet; a bill signed into law in July 2013 will further delay the implementation of the law until the legislature appropriates specific funding and sets a new implementation date.

State policymakers can consider the supports currently available to workers in their state who need to take time off from work for family or medical reasons. They can also strengthen other key supports for working families such as child care assistance and paid sick leave policies.

Please visit for more information about how policymakers can ensure that children grow up in safe, supportive and economically successful families. To learn more about policies that support children’s healthy development through providing support to their families sign-up for Policy for Results updates and look for our new report – Supporting Early Healthy Development- Coming Soon!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pathways to Opportunities for Ex-Offenders

When formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into the community, they face a number of barriers to employment, education, and access to services. If current trends continue, over half of released inmates are bound to return to prison within three years. To combat this issue, it is essential to reduce and avoid the possibility of recidivism.  One important way to do that is through workforce development and education programs for inmates while in prison.
Research has shown that higher education is directly linked to reducing recidivism rates; however, inmates have extremely limited access to programs that provide education and training. Education increases human capital and improves general cognitive functioning while providing specific skills, and for inmates, it can help to obtain and maintain employment while also deterring criminal activity. Education and training provides ex-offenders with marketable skills essential for employment and dramatically improves their outcomes, so making quality education programs accessible to inmates can minimize the obstacles for ex-offenders during their reintegration – which ultimately leads to safer communities for all of us.
This commentary from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity highlights the drastic limitations of incarcerated students, especially after their Pell Grant eligibility was removed in 1994—since then, higher education programs dropped from 350 to 8 for inmates nationwide. Up to that point, Pell Grants had been the primary source of funding for higher education programs in correctional facilities. Though some states have been able to provide funding streams to fill the gap, many of the effects are still present and impacting thousands of people who will return to the community.
The removal of Pell Grant eligibility and the deep cuts in education programs increased the already disparate outcome of educational attainment among the incarcerated population. The number of incarcerated individuals receiving postsecondary education in prison dropped by 44%. Only 17% of state and federal prisoners had some level of postsecondary education compared to 51% of the population outside of prison, and only 65% of state and federal prisoners had diplomas or GEDs, compared to 82% of the population. Additionally, 7 out of 10 prisoners who had a GED reported obtaining it while in prison, which demonstrates just how important these programs can be in helping inmates obtain their education.
Another important consideration is that inmates are not the only ones that are affected—the multiple barriers ex-offenders face affect their innocent children and entire families. An important statistic to keep in mind is that 1 in every 28 children in the United States has a parent behind bars, and failed reintegration harm both ex-offenders and their children. Policies to support employment for reintegrating ex-offenders support the well-being and economic success of both generations, as well as do much more to ensure community-wide safety and economic growth.
To read the commentary on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, click here.
For more information on Promoting Workforce Strategies for Reintegrating Ex-Offenders – including providing the needed supports and services that help their families thrive - click here and here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

SNAP and the Minimum Wage

Last week the House Budget Committee held a hearing marking the War on Poverty’s 50th anniversary. The testimony provided, and the following discussions, included a wide variety of opinions regarding the effectiveness of safety net programs. Of the heavily debated, SNAP drew a significant amount of attention. Policy for Results has previously posted on the significance of SNAP, but in light of the hearing, here are a few important facts to keep in mind:
  • Snap is targeted at the most vulnerable families
  • 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person
  • The majority of households have income well below the maximum allowed for eligibility
  • SNAP benefits do not last most participants the whole month
  • 90% of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month
  • 58% of recipients currently receiving SNAP benefits turn to food banks for assistance at least 6 months of the year 
Despite the support that SNAP provides to working families, in November, SNAP benefits will be cut for all participants. For families of three, the cut will be $25 to $30 a month—a total of $300 to $360 a year. Nationally, the total cut is estimated to be $5 billion in fiscal year 2014.

The SNAP program is intended to provide supplemental support to families and research shows that it does. However, the statistics also highlight another important factor addressed at last week’s hearing. A majority, 60%, of households receiving SNAP have someone who is employed, and 90% of households receiving SNAP have a family member who finds work within a year. While this demonstrates the importance of what a crucial support the program provides to working families, this also shows the inefficiency of the current minimum wage to provide families with the opportunity to meet their basic needs.

In the past, the federal minimum wage would increase slightly with inflation, helping to keep millions of Americans out of poverty—minimum wage workers who worked full-time and year round earned nearly enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty level. However, since the early 1970s, the minimum wage has fallen significantly – by over 25%. The current minimum wage is $7.25, but the minimum wage in 1968 would have been equivalent to $10 an hour. Even after the 2007-2009 federal increases, the minimum wage remains far too low to sustain working families.

If the minimum wage were to increase to $10.10, a worker currently making $15,000 would earn $20,000 a year—a significant difference for families living in poverty.

Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would raise wages for about 30 million workers, who would receive over $51 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period. Women would be disproportionately affected, comprising 56% of those who would benefit from the increase. Around 55% of affected workers currently work full time, more than a quarter are parents, and over a third are married. This would not only dramatically impact these families but would also positively impact the economy - GDP would increase by roughly $32.6 billion, resulting in the creation of approximately 140,000 net new jobs over the phase-in period.

Looking for meaningful solutions for the future, it is essential to maintain safety net programs that can assist the most vulnerable. However, long term solutions have to address the minimum wage. Families working full time should be able to provide their families with their basic needs – and right now they can’t. The research shows that many of the beneficiaries of SNAP are working and are still unable to afford food. To seriously address poverty requires ensuring working families are adequately paid and that when needed, there is a safety net in place to ensure that children and their families can continue to meet their needs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Helping Homeless Youth Come In From the Cold

Each year, an estimated 380,000 youth under 18 experience homelessness. Some homeless youth have been thrown out of their homes by a parent or caregiver. Many have run away from their homes or foster care situations because of factors such as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Older youth often find themselves on the streets after aging out of the foster care system at 18. Once out on the streets, youth are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Homeless youth are much more likely to become victims of crime, especially violent crimes. A study of homeless youth found that 76% had been victims of a crime in the previous 12 months, and that most homeless youth surveyed had been victims of violent crime-- far higher rates of crime victimization than those found among youth with housing. The study found that homeless youth of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are victimized at even higher rates than other homeless youth. 

The Importance of Data.
Serving the needs of homeless youth is made more challenging by the difficulty in getting an accurate count of how many young people don’t have a safe place to live. Reliable information about how many homeless youth there are and what they need is essential for effective service provision; however, it is very difficult for researchers to find homeless youth willing to talk to them, much less get a clear picture of their needs.  This month the Urban Institute released a new report on the Youth Count! Initiative, highlighting promising practices in getting an accurate count of the homeless youth population. 

According to the report, surveys that ask youth about their housing situation rather than just asking if they are homeless yield better data since homeless youth often rely on a range of strategies to find shelter, including ‘couch surfing’ with friends or relatives, staying in shelters, sleeping in abandoned buildings, cars or other places. Broader survey questions about housing stability also allow researchers to identify the related needs of homeless youth—not only their need for stable housing, but also other needs that cause or result in youth homelessness.

Understanding the needs of homeless youth requires engaging with organizations that provide services to this population since youth may be more willing to connect with trusted service providers. Methods such as hosting magnet events and utilizing social media were found to be effective in finding homeless youth to participate in surveys. Engagement with organizations that serve LGBTQ youth was found to be particularly important, as LGBTQ youth may be reluctant to share personal information about their housing situation, gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Research conducted by the Williams Institute suggests that about 40% of homeless youth receiving services identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The leading cause of homelessness cited by LGBTQ youth is family rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity resulting in youth running away or being forced to leave home by family members. Since research suggests that LGBTQ youth are both disproportionately likely to become homeless and more likely to be victimized while homeless, effective methods for assessing and serving the needs of LGBTQ youth is a key aspect of ending youth homelessness.

Trying to Survive is Not a Crime.

It is important to have an accurate count and assessment of the needs of youth with unstable housing; however, policies that encourage youth to reach out when they need help rather than further marginalizing them are also critical. Youth may resort to theft or other petty crimes to survive, and many trade ‘survival sex’ to meet basic needs such as food and shelter.  Homeless youth are often targeted by adults who offer them food and a place to stay and then coerce them into prostitution or other forms of exploitation. Homeless youth are frequently arrested for such survival crimes, including survivors of human trafficking. 

In many areas, even ‘acts of living’ such as sleeping, eating, sitting or panhandling in public places have been made illegal in an effort to drive homeless people from high-visibility public spaces.  Attempts to access or improvise clean drinking water or restroom facilities can lead to arrest. A report by a United Nations investigator found that homeless populations in the United States are often denied access to water and sanitation facilities in violation of international standards. Criminalizing such survival tactics makes it harder for youth to stay safe and meet their basic needs when they find themselves on the streets, and the fear of being arrested can discourage youth from seeking help.  A 2012 report from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness found that criminalizing acts of living through ‘zero tolerance’ approaches to homelessness are not effective and that “[c]ommunity residents, government agencies, businesses, and men and women who are experiencing homelessness are better served by solutions that do not marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but rather strike at the core factors contributing to homelessness.”

Strengthening Families and Supports for Youth.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the key to addressing the core factors of homelessness is employing prevention and early intervention services for at-risk youth as early as possible. The NAEH highlights the importance of measures that strengthen families through counseling and resources so that youth have the support they need. Without such resources, factors such as family conflict, poverty, lack of affordable housing, inaccessible health care and systemic racism may result in youth being displaced from their families.

Ensuring that every child has a safe, permanent home is crucial, not just for reducing homelessness, but for ensuring their well-being. For young people aging-out of foster care, an effective support system is needed so that youth can access safe housing, health care, education opportunities and other supports.  A number of states including California, Illinois and the District of Columbia have extended foster care eligibility to age 21 in an attempt to ease this transition. Funded in part by the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, extended support is a positive step toward preventing youth from becoming homeless after aging out. A study found that Illinois foster youth were twice as likely to have attended college - and more than twice as likely to have completed at least one year of college by age 21- compared with former foster youth from neighboring states where eligibility ends at 18. Extended eligibility was also associated with delayed pregnancy, higher earnings, and a greater likelihood of receiving independent living services.

There are a number of interrelated factors that impact a child becoming homeless Addressing those factors in a comprehensive way through public policy is a critical part of addressing youth homelessness.  State policymakers can implement child welfare, health care, education and social safety net policies in their state that are more effective in preserving and strengthening families to ensure that children and youth have what they need to thrive. They can also strengthen laws and policies to prevent the criminalization and victimization of homeless young people and assist them in accessing the resources they need to survive homelessness and move forward as successful adults.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A New Brief! Promise Zones and Policy Implications

The Center for the Study of Social Policy is excited to release a new policy brief on the Obama Administration’s plans to launch “Promise Zones.”  Promise Zones, the latest addition to a continuum of place-based strategies, will foster partnerships between the federal government and communities, leverage local investments, and increase access to tools and resources to help in community revitalization efforts.

Over the next four years, the administration will designate 20 communities as Promise Zones, including up to five in 2013. The communities will be designated in urban, rural, and tribal communities with poverty rates over 20 percent. This place-based program will target local needs by helping communities focus on job creation, increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, reducing violent crime, and leveraging private investment.

Although Promise Zones will not receive direct funding, selected communities will have access to several resources, including tax incentives. If enacted by Congress, private businesses will receive tax incentives for hiring and investing in Promise Zones. The tax incentives are intended to spark job creation and attract private investment in high poverty neighborhoods, and because these tax incentives are targeted to the communities in greatest need, they have the potential to both create jobs and reduce poverty.
Similar tax incentives have been utilized previously through Empowerment Zones and the Renewable Communities Program as designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture. Under the Empowerment Zones and Renewable Communities programs, qualifying businesses are eligible for billions of dollars in tax incentives through employment credits, low-cost loans, increased tax deductions, partial-exclusion of tax on capital gains upon the sale of certain assets, as well as other incentives.

However, there can be unintended consequences for tax incentive programs if not implemented as intended. Tax incentives for Empowerment Zones have previously received criticism for not specifically targeting distressed areas enough to attract investments, and many states have loosened their zone criteria to encompass any area within the state to qualify—therefore no longer serving their original anti-poverty intent. Moving forward, it is essential to maintain the anti-poverty goal of the tax incentives included in the Promise Zones proposal—that is the surest way to benefit communities with the highest need and to transform our nation’s highest-poverty areas.

To read CSSP’s policy brief on Promise Zones, click here.

To access CSSP’s Investing in Community Change blog, click here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Ongoing Impacts of the Sequester on Communities

The government-wide spending cuts known as the sequester took effect on March 1, forcing $85 billion in federal budget reductions by the end of September. As we previously described, these cuts, which only affect discretionary programs (i.e. programs for which Congress must annually appropriate dollars) have reduced the budgets of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice and Labor, among others. As the months have progressed we are increasingly seeing how these cuts at the federal level trickle down to impact states and communities, causing multitudes of reductions in services and programming.

A map from the Center for American Progress shows how the sequester is impacting states, including Head Start programs, public schools, housing assistance, tribal programs and programs for seniors. These stories from across the nation reveal just how much states and local governments depend on federal funds to maintain their levels of service. Head Start programs have been forced to develop longer waiting lists, cut children from the program, eliminate or reduce transportation for children to centers, and lay off staff. Some school districts have been forced to sell offices, reduce teacher personal days, lay off teachers and support staff, and eliminate arts, music and physical education programs. The consequence of these moves are larger classroom sizes and a lower quality of education. The sequester is also causing longer waiting lists for housing choice vouchers, and in some places leading to vouchers being taken back and current voucher holders being reverted to a waiting list if they have not yet secured a lease with a landlord.

Funds for tribal programs have also faced extreme cuts, including 21 percent cuts in tribal housing grants; a 23 percent cut to Native job training; and a 35 percent cut to Energy Assistance. The sequester is being felt much heavier in tribal lands because unlike states, tribes cannot levy property taxes on lands held in trust, or gain significant revenues from income taxes, given the chronically low incomes of most residents on Indian reservations. Although the federal government pays about 10 percent of the budget for a typical U.S. public school district; on federal lands, it contributes as much as 60 percent. This can translate to the reduction or elimination of education programs and services, including the elimination of summer school, vocational training for high school youth, and can lead to the inability to fill vacant teacher and support staff positions (such as school guidance counselors and mental health counselors). The effects of cuts for mental health programs in tribal schools can have devastating consequences for tribal communities because research shows that Native American children and youth have disproportionately high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide.

The across-the-board cuts of the sequester are reducing services for people who immediately need them, but they also have long-term fiscal consequences.  For example, states have had to roll back on the Meals on Wheels program, reducing the number of visits seniors receive, and creating a waiting list for seniors in need of delivered meals.  This is a crucial service that enables seniors to remain in their homes. Not only does the delivery of meals provide nutrition assistance to seniors, but it serves as a check-up and social interaction for those who live by themselves and are sometimes otherwise socially isolated. Cutting these services actually costs taxpayers more money in the long term, because a tax dollar spent providing support services to someone at home can prevent having to spend many more tax dollars on providing full-time care to the same person in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility.

To deal with these, and likely future cuts to the federal budget, states will need to focus on policies that maximize their use of federal funds and intelligently and efficiently prioritize their own funds.  To make the best use of funds during tough fiscal times, it becomes increasingly important to budget using a results-based public policy framework. First, states should set priorities for budget decisions by engaging stakeholders and focusing on measurable results.

State and local policymakers are being forced to do more with less, and innovative strategies are needed to make this happen. Facing the current fiscal year of sequestration as well as other budget cuts, it will be ever more important for policymakers to support policies that maximize federal dollars, maximize return on investment and generate savings to invest in what works. This includes maximizing funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, utilizing the Food Stamp Employment and Training Program, taking advantage of the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds to target priority areas, and ensure that families are aware of the benefits of filing for federal tax credits.    

For more results-based public policy, visit

Monday, July 29, 2013

Helping Families Afford a Decent Place to Live

Housing insecurity can have serious negative impacts on the health of young children. Research shows that when a child’s home is overcrowded or their family has to move multiple times due to financial pressures, children are at risk of poor mental health, have difficulty coping with stress, difficulty with social relationships and suffer from poor-quality sleep. Research on housing insecurity states that:

·         Housing insecurity increases the risk for childhood injuries, elevated blood pressure, respiratory conditions, and exposure to infectious disease

·         A history of multiple moves is associated with an increased risk of substance abuse, behavior problems, poor school performance and teen pregnancy for older children and adolescents

·         Adolescents who experience school moves are 50% more likely not to graduate from high school

·         Multiple moves in childhood are associated with lower overall health in adulthood

·         In some cases inadequate housing is a contributing factor in an increased risk of children being removed from their homes by child welfare services 

In light of the negative impacts of housing insecurity on the health, well-being and life outcomes of children, effective housing policy is crucial to keeping children safe, healthy and well. This includes both policies to help homeless families find proper housing and policies to prevent families from losing their housing in the first place. However, budget cuts at the federal, state and local level mean that many local housing agencies are unable to meet rising demand for housing assistance.  Federal funding cuts to the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) due to sequestration means that thousands of eligible people including very low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities are unable to get the assistance they need to afford the rent on a decent place to live.

Housing vouchers are a critical support for many working, poor families who live in areas where rents are high and affordable housing is in short supply. Under the program, families pay 30-40% of their income on rent and the voucher covers the remainder. As funding for the program has fallen, many housing authorities have closed waiting lists (which already number in the tens of thousands in many states) and have stopped issuing new vouchers. Some have laid-off staff to avoid cutting off assistance to families who currently have housing vouchers and might become homeless without them. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated earlier this year that 125,000 households will lose their housing assistance due to sequestration.

People who have been on the waiting list for years and finally reached the top  are being told that they won’t be getting help after all; for instance, the New York City Housing Authority is no longer accepting new applications or processing new vouchers, and says that “[f]or Section 8 voucher holders who have identified an apartment and not yet scheduled an appointment to have the housing unit inspected and for those voucher holders who are still searching for an apartment, the vouchers will be terminated immediately.”  The Housing Authority of New Orleans had to recall housing vouchers recently issued to 700 families who had spent years on the waiting list and who now will have to find some other way to avoid homelessness. In Hartford, Connecticut 20 families have had their vouchers rescinded, as have 42 families in Fairfax County, Virginia. In El Paso, Texas, 100 families currently receiving assistance were told in March that their vouchers were being taken away and they would have to either leave their homes and move into public housing or figure out another way to keep a roof over their heads. In Washington DC, the United States Senate is currently considering the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, which would provide funding for housing choice vouchers and other housing and homelessness measures; however, at the moment local housing authorities do not know if next year they will face further cuts or be able to issue vouchers again.

Receiving a Housing Choice Voucher for a family whose housing is insecure is an invaluable support.  However, even if a family is one of the lucky few who receive a voucher, in most states landlords can legally refuse to rent to potential tenants simply because they are receiving rental assistance. Due to the widespread discrimination against tenants receiving housing vouchers, in recent years some state and local policymakers have acted to reduce the obstacles preventing low-income families from finding a place to live. Earlier this month, Oregon passed a new law prohibiting discrimination against tenants who pay part of their rent with a housing voucher. Chicago has a long-standing city ordinance prohibiting such discrimination, and in May an amendment to Cook County’s Human Rights Ordinance extended these rights countywide. States such as Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts have similar tenant protections, as do some other municipalities including New York City.

Legal protections and housing assistance programs help to reduce barriers to housing security, but ensuring that affordable housing is available in communities is critical to the success of such measures. A number of states have created innovative policy approaches in recent years in an attempt to increase the availability of affordable housing so that families are not priced out of the market in their area. The Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act requires that at least 10% of housing in each community have affordable rents or mortgages. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have similar statutes. Such policies help to encourage the expansion of affordable housing so that families are not forced to repeatedly move due to rising rents or remain in areas of concentrated poverty because no other affordable housing is available.

State policymakers should consider new approaches to increasing the availability of affordable housing – to ensure that working families aren’t “priced out” of the market. They can also increase the legal protections that prevent landlords from discriminating against families who use housing assistance to make ends meet. Approaches to ensuring safe, stable and affordable housing options for families not only provides a critical concrete support now – but leads to better health, education and other well-being outcomes for children in the future.  
For policy strategies that promote affordable housing, please visit