Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Measuring Opportunity

Opportunity Nation has developed an Opportunity Index, based on the principal that looking at the country’s GDP and poverty rate are an inadequate way to determine opportunity. The index includes an interactive map and a state ranking list. The opportunity index measures a number of indicators at the county and state levels that contribute to economic opportunity and mobility. The index includes indicators that have a demonstrated connection to expanding or restricting economic mobility and opportunity and measures the opportunities that are present in different communities (including: employment, education, access to medical care, etc.).

In considering what policy actions are needed in a state or community – it is critical to have data to understand the current circumstances. Collecting and disaggregating data enables policymakers to have a sense of what the current trends are and how those trends are impacting different communities.

For more information on the importance of data and for state data tied to results-based policy solutions, visit’s state data center.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rental Assistance and Economic Opportunity

In collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters Initiative, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is running a series of commentaries on How Housing Matters to Families and Communities. The series includes information on the intersection of housing and health, economic opportunity and education. The latest piece in the series is Rental Assistance: A Drag on Work or a Platform for Economic Opportunity? by Jeffrey Lubell from the Center for Housing Policy. In the piece Lubell comments on the concern expressed by some that receiving housing vouchers might have a negative impact on earnings. The issue brief states that there are aspects of housing assistance that promote and hinder work efforts and, over the long-term, these aspects more or less offset each other; resulting in no persistent long-term impact. The brief goes on to suggest that by addressing the aspects that negatively impact work and building up the positive ones that rental assistance could become a platform for greater economic opportunity.

To learn more about how housing impacts families and communities.

Visit our Investing in Community Change blog to read about the impact of housing and health in the post: Funders and Policymakers Increasingly Support Innovative Models to Address Housing and Health .

For results-based strategies to promote affordable housing visit PolicyforResults.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Preventing Childhood Obesity – My Plate

MyPlate is a new resource from the Let’s Move Campaign and the USDA. The tool is intended to help simplify making healthy eating choices. The icon, built off of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for all Americans can also be used to consider the nutritional needs of specific audiences such as pregnant and nursing mothers, preschoolers, children and those who are interested in healthy ways to loose weight. MyPlate also includes resources to learn more about healthy foods, ways to eat healthy on a budget and resources in Spanish, among others.

Tools like MyPlate and the efforts around the Let’s Move Campaign are important in light of the significant research around health in the United States. The Trust for America’s Health Report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future, 2011 states that, two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight, putting them at increased risk for more than 20 major diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It’s not just our health that is suffering however; it is also impacting our economy. The report goes on to state that obesity-related medical costs and a less productive workforce are hampering America’s ability to compete in the global economy.

For state policy strategies to prevent childhood obesity, visit PolicyforResults,org.

Monday, November 28, 2011

TANF Benefits Continue to Decline

According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, TANF benefits for poor families with children are worth less than they were in 1996 when the TANF program began. The report states that after adjusting for inflation, benefit levels in 2011 are at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 34 states. While most states froze benefit levels this year, six states and the District of Columbia cut them, reducing assistance for more than 700,000 low-income families that represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving such assistance nationwide. The report includes state specific information as well as detailed information about the reduction of TSNF’s worth and how that is impacting poor families, including:

  • TANF benefit levels are so low that they are not sufficient in any state to raise a family's income above 50 percent of the poverty line.
  • In all but two states, a poor family relying solely on TANF to provide the basics for its children (such as during a period of joblessness, illness, or disability) is further below the poverty line today than in 1996.
  • Almost all states have adopted "make work pay" policies under which TANF benefits phase out gradually as family earnings increase. However, families become ineligible for TANF cash assistance at very low income levels in nearly all states.

With the re-authorization of TANF likely on the horizon, an economic climate that has led to significant state budget cuts, and the impact that this program has on poor families – it is important to consider the changes needed to ensure the needs of the nation’s poorest families are met. For state policymakers the upcoming TANF debate will be critically important – and provides an opportunity for policymakers to ensure that their state is able to best serve poor children and their parents.

For a series of fact sheets that provide guidance to state policymakers that is grounded in research and based on today’s economic realities visit our Policymakers’ Corner.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

School Nutrition Policy – Pizza and Vegetables or Pizza as Vegetables

It is much easier to reach agreement that children should be eating nutritious meals during the school day – then it is to agree on what constitutes nutritious. There is guidance to ensure that children eat enough calories during the school day – but also that those calories come from nutritious foods. For instance, under the new nutrition standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, schools would need to use about one-half cup of tomato paste on pizza in order for the sauce to count as a serving of vegetables. This upset groups like the American Frozen Food Industry – who argued that the amount was too great and has lobbied Congress to stop the standard from moving forward. Congress apparently agrees, as the House of Representatives' agriculture appropriations bill was released last week, and the bill will prevent the new rule on tomato paste from taking effect.

With the incredible childhood obesity rates in the United States –nutrition advocates are strongly opposing the legislation. Margo Wootan, the Director of the Center for Science and the Public Interest issued a statement regarding the bill saying; “It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children's health, and continued to say that “if finalized, this legislation may go down in nutritional history as a bigger blunder than when the Reagan Administration tried (but failed) to credit ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program. Pizza should be served with a vegetable, not count as one.”

Keeping child nutrition at the forefront is important for the health of our children and of our country. No matter how nutrition is defined, States will be responsible for adhering to the federal regulations and so engaging in the conversation at the national level is a good opportunity to ensure that the values of your community are considered.

For related results-based policy strategies visit our Policy for Results section on preventing and reducing childhood obesity.