Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Resources on the Budget!

While the long and unconventional Congressional budget process for FY2012 is barely over (4 months into the fiscal year) – we are fast approaching the release of the President’s FY2013 Budget Proposal. In an attempt to simplify what is an increasingly confusing process we thought we would assemble a list of common budget vocabulary to help untangle some of the terminology frequently used. Additionally, CSSP’s Investing in Community Change blog is also running a series on the FY2012 budget process aimed at assisting community members and community-based organizations. As the 2013 process moves forward we will continue to provide resources and updates on the policy agenda articulated through the President’s Budget Proposal as well as appropriations as they are addressed in Congress.

For a great introduction to the federal budget process visit the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For a breakdown of the key budget issues for children and families in the FY2012 Budget visit the American Humane Association.

For policy solutions to meet the needs of children and families in difficult economic times visit PolicyforResults. Click here for PfR’s Federal Budget Vocabulary Tip Sheet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Impact of the Recession on Children

The Brookings Institution’s Julia Isaacs recently published a report on the impact of the recession on children, The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on America’s Children: Indicators of Children's Economic Well-Being Through 2011. The report asserts that the impact of the recession on children can be hard to see; in part because some economic statistics do not include children (such as the unemployment rate) while others come out after a long time delay (the poverty rate). In order to get a sense of the economic well-being of children during and following the recession, Isaacs’ report tracks three state-by-state indicators: children with an unemployed parent, individuals receiving nutrition assistance benefits, and child poverty.

Isaacs’ report found that “many families have at least one parent out of work, are turning to SNAP benefits to put food on the table, and/or have cash income less than the poverty threshold ($17,000 per year for a family of three). Two of these three indicators are worse in 2011 than in 2010, indicating a continued deterioration in children’s economic well-being.” However Isaacs’ found that “one positive trend is that the number of children with an unemployed parent in 2011 is lower than a year ago” but goes on to state that “SNAP caseloads continue to rise, and child poverty is also is rising.”

For policymakers this work provides great context for the ongoing debates over federal and state budgets. As state policymakers engage in these debates and address issues of government size and spending, and the appropriate balance of spending cuts and tax increases to address budget deficits, it is important to consider that many families with children have not yet recovered from the recession and are in greater need of government supports and services than they would be in normal economic times.

For results-based policy strategies for difficult economic times visit the Policymakers’ Corner on

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Public Safety and Public Spending: Asking the Wrong Question?

A Brookings Institution issue brief, More Prisoner Versus More Crime is The Wrong Question, by Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig addresses whether or not the debate around criminal justice has been framed by a false choice. The brief states that framing the incarceration debate as a tradeoff between public safety and public finance is far too narrow – and that in fact the best evidence suggests the prison population would be substantially reduced with negligible effects on crime rates.

The brief states that the research community has made significant gains in identifying the causal effects of crime-related policies, and establishing proven alternatives to prison for controlling crime. The recommendations listed in the report include:

  • The resources currently dedicated to supporting long prison sentences should be reallocated to produce swifter, surer, but more moderate punishment. This approach includes hiring more police officers -we know now that chiefs using modern management techniques can make effective use of them.
  • Increased alcohol excise taxes reduce not only alcohol abuse but also the associated crime at very little cost to anyone except the heaviest drinkers. Federal and state levies should be raised.
  • Crime patterns and crime control are as much the result of private actions as public. The productivity of private-security efforts and private cooperation with law enforcement should be encouraged through government regulation and other incentives.
  • While convicts typically lack work experience and skills, it has proven very difficult to increase the quality and quantity of their licit employment through job creation and traditional training, either before or after they become involved with criminal activity. More effective rehabilitation (and prevention) programs seek to develop non-academic ("social-cognitive") skills like self-control, planning, and empathy.
  • Adding an element of coercion to social policy can also help reduce crime, including threatening probationers with swift, certain and mild punishments for illegal drug use, and compulsory schooling laws that force people to stay in school longer.

In an economic climate that requires an increased focus on making both effective and cost efficient policy decisions – informing policy with research is an important tool. It is ever more important to ask the right questions – in order to ensure that public policy is leading to the desired outcomes for children, families and community. Public safety is an important part of ensuring communities are places where children and families can thrive – and the policy decisions that can achieve that aim are much broader than are often addressed. By reviewing the research and making decisions that are both effective and cost efficient policymakers can address problems in ways that might allow for investment in other needed areas.

For state policy guidance that is grounded in research and based on today’s economic realities visit the Policymakers’ Corner on

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Affordability of Food

The ability to afford food is a critical basic need for families, however new research shows that food spending is decreasing. In a new white paper by the Food Resource and Action Center, their analysis of federal data found that a growing number of Americans have been struggling and unable to afford an adequate and healthy diet and that food spending by the average household fell significantly over the past decade. While this is a circumstance that is impacting families across the country, there are some families struggling more than others. The report found:

  • Spending on food by the median household fell from 1.36 times the Thrifty Food Plan level in 2000 to 1.19 times that level in 2010.
  • By 2010 median spending on food by Black households and Hispanic households had fallen to the point where it was only a tiny bit above (101 percent for Black households) or was actually below (96 percent for Hispanic households) the Thrifty Food Plan level.
  • Other groups of households whose median food spending dropped from above the Thrifty level in 2000 to below it in 2010 were: households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line; and food insecure households.

Policies that increase access to affordable healthy food are one of the many ways that policymakers can work to reduce hardship and promote health for the families living in their states.

For results-based strategies to increase access to health foods visit PolicyforResults.