Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, is the federal anti-hunger program, which helps 45 million low-income Americans a year obtain an adequate diet. As an entitlement, SNAP is available to anyone who qualifies and is extremely important in assisting families during economic downturns. SNAP has experienced a large growth in caseloads since 2007, which demonstrates the need for this program in compensating during temporary periods of unemployment or other financially difficult times.
To be eligible for SNAP, families must meet three criteria:
1)      Monthly income generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line for a three-person family.
2)      Monthly net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care,  must be less than or equal to the poverty line.
3)      Assets must fall below certain limit depending on households with or without an elderly or disabled member.
SNAP assists more than 93 percent of households with incomes below the poverty line and helped to keep 4 million people out of poverty in 2010. However the average benefit amount an individual receives with SNAP is about $4.46 a day, which alone is not enough for maintaining a nutritious diet. For example, in Washington, D.C. the average cost of a meal is $3.41, so for three meals a day, an individual’s total food cost for the day would be $10.23; SNAP benefits would fall short by $5.77 a day. Other less-nutritious alternatives can be more affordable and accessible, which adversely compromises the health of poor and low-income families. The food insecurity rate in Washington, D.C. is 16.5% which translates to 99,490 people who lack access to enough food. These circumstances are not unique to Washington D.C., to learn about the cost of food and food insecurity in your state- check-out Feeding America’s virtual map. 
Children, the elderly, and the disabled make up 64 percent of total SNAP recipients, demonstrating the importance of the program in preserving the well-being of the most vulnerable. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the proposed $4.5 billion cut to SNAP will reduce a family’s monthly benefit by $90, dropping the average benefit to $2.06 a day. In Washington, D.C., an additional $58,396,850 would be needed to continue to provide support to food insecure people at the current level. CBO also states that an additional component of the proposed food bill would prevent 1.8 million people per year from receiving benefits by reducing categorical eligibility. For state policymakers – considering ways to meet the need of families who are food insecure is an important responsibility.  A strong safety net can prevent an increase in food insecurity and families from going hungry.
State policymakers should consider strategies to bolster the safety net in their states to support struggling families, promote adequate nutrition and prevent hunger.  To learn more about results-based public policies for improving access to affordable healthy foods visit Policy for Results. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pocket Neighborhoods and Older Adults: Re-thinking Housing for Aging Boomers

A recent article from the AARP entitled, Share Common Ground: More Boomers are opting for smaller neighborhoods with a bigger sense of community notes that in their advancing years, more and more boomers are looking for opportunities for close-knit communities which breed close neighbors and common green space.    

As the article observes, “Chances are, you will be hearing more about pocket neighborhoods” and I couldn’t agree more.  So, what is a pocket neighborhood?  Well, according to Ross Chapin, an architect based in the Pacific Northwest who has designed a number of these spaces, “these neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space.” Pocket neighborhoods exist as neighborhoods within neighborhoods; central mailboxes give neighbors even more opportunities to interact and shared common space provide for a sense of mutual attachment and responsibility.  As Chapin suggests, “Because of their watchfulness, strangers are taken note of and children are free to play.”  Indeed, these neighborhoods are designed to promote exercise, youth play, and active living in helping to confront and prevent childhood obesity spoken to in a report by the Center on the Study of Social Policy.  CSSP’s Policy for Results Initiative has a policy tool devoted to how policymakers can help support healthy community design and through that promote child health.  Building housing that activates open and walkable space, reflected in development like pocket neighborhoods, is key to this design. 

Pocket homes have smaller backyards with the focus on the front of the house reflected in an expansive front porch.  They prioritize walkability to restaurants and shops.  Again, this enables more active living not just for boomers, but for their children and families which leads to healthier lifestyles.  Parking, on the other hand, is deemphasized through attached garages or parking areas.  The architecture speaks to a renewal of neighborhood life and meaning that brings to mind a 21st century iteration of Mayberry, NC.  
You may be asking yourself the question right now, “Jeff, you are twenty-eight years old, why do you care what those irrepressible Boomers are doing?”  One reason is this phenomenon is not just a Boomer trend.  In fact, the literature shows that this type of housing is attractive for a range of generational and demographic cohorts, including, Singles, Empty-Nester Couples, Families, the ‘Great Generation’, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Millennials.  More so, our architecture, our buildings, and how we live in them say something about what we value as a society and where we are going as a nation.  Some among us are finding the extreme private architecture of “gated communities” to be antithetical to how we are wired as social beings.  We are looking for the pendulum to swing back to a place in which there is more of a balance between community, knowing your neighbors, and private space apart from exurban bedroom communities that can be isolating and removed.  In thinking about the connections to policy, a report released in 2010 by AARP’s Public Policy Institute and authored by the Center for Housing Policy speaks to the need for a broader range of housing options to meet the growing needs of adults over fifty.  One specific topic this report touches on is housing for older adults who don’t wish to live in nursing homes.  Pocket Neighborhoods could be developed within this housing framework.  Another more recently released report by the Center for Housing Policy notes providing for flexible zoning models and enhancing consumer choice will further bolster the range of options for older adults.  These reports which advocate for policy on the federal level are connected with the larger older adult and assisted living state policy infrastructure that has seen broad shifts in the last few years.  According to the National Center for Assisted Living’s 2012 edition of “Assisted Living State Regulatory Review,” sixteen states have made changes to assisted living policy in 2011 including the revision of education and training requirements for workers, disclosure of information to consumers, and Medicaid changes.  These shifts in housing policy will increasingly affect more Americans as more Boomers and their families look for housing options as they age.  Generations United recognizes that an intergenerational approach to public policy, including housing and older adult care, is imperative in using resources more wisely and building generational coalitions, rather than divisions.  Children, families, and seniors all have some skin in this game.  Further, for children in the care of their grandparents pocket communities might serve as an opportunity to grow-up with an increased sense of community – with safe places to play and close-knit neighbors.  Generally, these trends are still relatively nascent and so further research would be needed to make more conclusive policy decisions.    

It is significant to remember that, essentially, demography is destiny.  For better or worse, Boomers have dictated the policy and practice of this nation for decades, and even in their so-called twilight years, they will continue to change and shift our society in ways that may be difficult to imagine.  In this way, it seems that the way we live and how we find meaning in this is being re-envisioned and re-thought.  After all, they wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Supporting Children through the Child Tax Credit

A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that the child tax refund, which provides up to $1,000 per child to low-income and middle-class families, currently prevents more than 2.6 million people from falling into poverty, including 1.4 million children. Tax credit eligibility is attached to the child and therefore, families who are not eligible for other safety net programs are able to benefit from the child tax credit, for instance American children with undocumented parents. 

Without a Social Security number, undocumented workers are able to work to file and pay federal taxes through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which currently allows immigrant parents to obtain the refund on behalf of their children. A report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general reveals that 2 million taxpayers claimed a refund using an ITIN, and the average household income for these families was about $21,240, which is less than half of the median household income in the United States. In 2010, $4.2 billion in refundable credits were issued to the ITIN filers; however, those same filers contributed more than $7 billion in federal taxes toward Medicare and Social Security programs from which they will never receive benefits. While provisions that support mixed documentation families may be politically controversial, the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers benefit from permitting undocumented tax filers even when tax credits, like the child tax credit, are taken into account.

State policymakers should ensure that families have the supports and services they need to thrive, and there are potential opportunities in policies that enact or expand state child tax credits. The child tax credit was designed to lift U.S. citizen children out of poverty, and the extra financial assistance goes towards books, daycare, food, and other essential costs for children – helping to decrease disadvantage.

To learn more about the results-based, state policy strategies that can provide needed supports to children and families - visit Policy for Results.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Maryland’s Health Enterprise Zones: A Policy Model?

The California Endowment notes on their website that a person’s zip code determines their life expectancy. In Baltimore, studies show a 20-year gap in life expectancy between upper-income, predominantly white neighborhoods and poorer, predominantly minority neighborhoods. In thinking about ways in which to confront these pernicious facts, the General Assembly of Maryland in April of this year, passed a piece of legislation that flew under the radar next to Doomsday budgets, tax increases, marriage equality and casinos. This piece of legislation, known as Health Enterprise Zones (HEZ), aim to improve healthcare in minority communities and reduce health disparities in the state of Maryland. Essentially, the pilot program would offer tax breaks and other incentives to local health departments in the state, as well as, to community groups for their program operation in underserved and neglected areas labeled as HEZs. The General Assembly has set aside $4 million for physicians and community health providers dedicated to improving access and affordability to health services in these HEZs.

The genesis of these zones is the result of a work group chaired by University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean Dr. E. Albert Reece. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and other state officials were looking for ways to address the disparities in the state that cost Medicare an extra $26 million annually, according to a 2006 report. This report notes that black residents in Maryland are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma, hypertension, and heart failure. The infant mortality rate amongst African American babies is practically three times more than for white babies in Maryland.

While Maryland boasts some of the best teaching hospitals and the nation’s highest median household income, it ranks 33rd in geographic health disparities and receives equally poor marks for infant mortality, infectious diseases and health outcomes, according to data from the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council.

A long-lasting solution to those problems will have to not only bring more health services to the under-served communities, but set up a framework to entice the providers of those services to stick around. HEZs are designed for just this purpose in that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Maryland will set the boundaries of enterprise zones — areas where residents lack access to health care either because of proximity, cost or both — and accept applications from private physicians, community health organizations and local health departments that promise to dedicate their resources to serving the area.

Lt. Gov. Brown reflects on the legislation by saying, “Every Marylander, of every race, ethnicity, and nationality, in every part of our state, should have the chance to live a healthy, productive life. With our Health Enterprise Zone program, we will be able to saturate underserved communities with primary care and other health services to help reduce rates of chronic and often preventable illnesses, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes and other controllable medical conditions.”

In thinking about the potential impact of HEZs, Maryland’s efforts are laudable in attempting to wrestle with and activate health policy interventions in a placed-based way. Research, including that of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, finds that families do better when they live in strong and supportive communities. In short, place matters, and that is especially true when it comes to individual, family, and community health and well-being. HEZ’s is a placed-based intervention that attempts to get at the crux of eliminating health disparities in Maryland, and thus, should be considered in other states and municipalities where health disparities are pervasive. Further, HEZ’s may ameliorate a number of child health issues addressed through the PolicyforResults Initiative, including combating childhood obesity and improving children’s social, emotional, and behavioral health outcomes.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Enrollment and the Recession

 A new report from the United States Census Bureau’s Current Population Reports on Household Economic Studies addresses how the recession has affected those enrolled in social programs.  The report includes a comparison of program participation of families who use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) both before and during the recent recession. TANF is a federally funded assistance program which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states allocate in

“ways designed to meet any of the four purposes set out in federal law, which are to: ‘(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.’”

The report analyzed multiple factors affecting participation in TANF by examining whether participation increased and employment decreased as a result of the recession, comparing family enrollment in other assistance programs based on welfare and poverty status before and during the recession, and exploring whether or not there were different reasons for a reduction in welfare benefits before and after the start of the economic recession. The Bureau’s report also researched the increased percentage of employed welfare beneficiaries after the employment requirement was instated in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PWORA) that created TANF in 1996. The three groups compared in the study were TANF recipients, poor non-TANF participants and other non-TANF families.  

The study reported multiple valuable findings, examining racial enrollment, full and part time employment statistics, labor force participation rates, and TANF recipient enrollment in other social assistance programs. While the recession increased participation in other social support programs, such as energy assistance, SNAP, and clothing assistance, there was no significant change in the TANF participation rate of poor families between 2006 and 2009. The increase seen in other programs was directly correlated to the rise in unemployment, which was not necessarily seen in TANF. However, married-couple families, who generally have the lowest overall rates of TANF participation, grew in proportion to the overall TANF recipient pool. TANF recipients were also more likely to receive other sources of assistance than both poor and non-TANF study participants.  

The report included information about the reasons for participating and exiting the TANF program.  The study found that one-eighth of former recipients no longer received benefits due to exceeding the enrollment time limit. Few families appeared to leave TANF for failing to fulfill the employment requirement and the report did not find that families receiving TANF only worked in order to continue to receive their benefits even though TANF enrollee employment rates have increased since the implementation of the work requirement. Conversely, the most common reason for families to stop receiving benefits is because their income exceeded the income eligibility limit (about one-third of former recipients surveyed). Yet they still needed some form of welfare assistance which indicates that families are not receiving the income necessary to provide for their families with low-pay work alone. Only one-fifth of former TANF beneficiaries left the program because they no longer needed TANF assistance.  

In reference to the PWORA employment requirement, the report showed that TANF families were more likely to participate in job training and education programs than poor non-TANF families and all other non-TANF families. These programs can touch on job searching and resources, interviewing skills, proper work etiquette and attire, or even self-esteem building workshops. TANF family participation in these programs increased from 11.5 percent in 2006 to 25.0 percent in 2009, while poor non-TANF families increased from 3.0 percent to 7.1 percent and other non-TANF families from 0.8 percent to 2.1 percent. This not only shows the affect the recession has had on the ability for lower income families to maintain a steady job, but also shows that many TANF families are highly motivated and committed to seek employment. Educational programs, including programs for basic literacy skills; GED and college certificate and degree attainment; and English as a Second Language, did not have significant increases in participation between 2006 and 2009. 

A strong safety-net, including programs like TANF, is essential to supporting low income families with children, particularly in a struggling economy. The research in this report shows that TANF beneficiaries are likely to utilize professional development and work support opportunities.  Policymakers should consider new ways of supporting families in their efforts to improve their work opportunities while also helping to provide work supports that enable families to be engaged in the workforce.  For more information on how to support TANF beneficiaries and low income families, see  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Strategies Work for the Hard-to-Employ?

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) recently released a report on strategies that work for the hard-to-employ.
The report includes findings from a 10-year study evaluating groups of people that face barriers to employment. The groups include; long-term welfare recipients, people with disabilities, those with mental or physical health problems, and former prisoners. Three of the eight models considered in this report and conducted by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), Transitional Work Corporation (TWC), and Personal Roads to Individual Development and Employment Evaluation (PRIDE) have proven to increase employment gains. A control group was used in each model to compare the success of the different programs.
The Center for Employment Opportunities observed former prisoners located in New York City in support services, job placement assistance, and transitional jobs.  The main goals of the evaluation were to improve long-term employment outcomes and reduce recidivism rates. After the completion of this three-year experiment, findings show CEO was able to increase employment early in the follow-up period when the participants were working in CEO transitional jobs; however, employment gains lessened as participants left those jobs. Although long-term employment was not attained, CEO’s transitional job programs were able to impact recidivism rates. Over the three-year period, only 67 percent of CEO participants experienced some type of recidivism compared to 71 percent of the control group.
The next model, based in Philadelphia by the TWC, provided temporary jobs for the hard-to-employ while providing assistance with job searching, job readiness instruction, and preparation for the General Educational Development Exam and other similar classes. The program required participants to attend a mandatory two-week orientation before being placed in a transitional job, usually within the government or a nonprofit agency at minimum wage. These individuals were required to work 25 hours a week while participating in 10 hours of professional development activities. After participants were able to secure a permanent job, TWC provided bonus payments for up to nine months.  Sixty-two percent of those randomly placed in the program enrolled and completed the two-week orientation, but only half actually worked in TWC transitional jobs. The participants that entered into a transitional job only worked for about 30 days over roughly eight weeks on average. While this model did not achieve long-term employment, TWC model was able to provide temporary relief through income and short-term employment to the disadvantaged.
The last evaluation conducted through Personal Roads to Individual Development and Employment Evaluation (PRIDE) in New York City proved to be the most successful in increasing employment. The model tested the effects of an employment strategy aimed at public assistance recipients with medical or mental health conditions that prevented them from participating in regular welfare-to-work activities and who are also ineligible for federal disability benefits. Initially, more than 2,600 single parents were assigned to participate in either the PRIDE group or the control group. PRIDE was able to increase employment throughout the four-year follow-up period by 5 percent in comparison to the control group. The data also suggests the PRIDE group was able to increase earnings for the participants involved by 22 percent in comparison to the control group. The major accomplishments of PRIDE was that it served more than 30,000 people, increased participation in both work experience and job search activities, and increased employment.
For state policymakers, the findings of this report suggest that programs aimed at improving the model of transitional jobs and other subsidized employment initiatives could serve not only to increase the success of programs aimed at increasing long-term employment but could also provide other needed assistance to the often hard to employ. Policymakers can help ensure more long-term employment by combining work-focused strategies with treatment or services since evidence supports these benefits more than using either strategy alone and can increase the opportunities for hard-to-employ individuals, especially those with disabilities and other medical conditions.
For results-based public policy strategies for reintegrating ex-offenders into the workforce visit PolicyforResults and read our report, Workforce Strategies for Reintegrating Ex Offenders.