Poverty reduction continues to be an elusive challenge for government administrations. In 1981, when more than a fifth of the population was living below the poverty line, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) was created to analyze how federal budget policies affect low-income Americans. Sol Price, with his interest in tax policy and income inequality, became an early supporter, serving on the CBPP board of directors. Price Philanthropies has continued to support CBPP through multi-year grants, recently approving a five year matching grant that will bolster the just launched Policy Futures initiative.
Many policies are written for short-term gain to help politicians get re-elected. Policy Futures will analyze the effects of those policies over the long-term, five to 10 years down the road, focusing on six policy areas:
- Long-Term Fiscal Challenges – How federal and state budget cycles affect government’s ability to deliver services to its residents, what policies are most effective at enhancing opportunity in an equitable manner, and how governments can address long-term fiscal imbalances without increasing poverty or reducing avenues of opportunity.
- Poverty and Opportunity – Policy Futures will analyze and develop new policies to reduce poverty (especially child poverty) and advance reforms to increase opportunity.
- Retirement Security – Social Security and Disability Insurance are facing shortfalls. Many current and future retirees will not have enough capital to sustain themselves. The initiative will analyze and promote effective policies for retirement security, especially for people of modest means.
- Full Employment – Pursue full employment as a primary policy goal to help more low-income people secure jobs and achieve higher wages.
- Climate Change – Policies to address climate change such as a carbon tax would raise energy costs, which would disproportionately harm low income families. Policy Futures will examine ways to use a portion of the revenues from such policies to offset the increased cost burdens on low-income households, without lessening their incentive to conserve, through tax credits and other targeted subsidies.
- Health Care – Now that the Affordable Health Care has been enacted, Policy Futures will pursue policies to extend coverage to those who remain uninsured, as well as ways to slow the growth of health care costs.
CBPP President Bob Greenstein said he expects Policy Futures will have significant impacts on improving the lives of low income Americans. He points to the past successes of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Since the Center began operations, the poverty rate in the United States has decreased about 7 percentage points — nearly one-third — despite erosion in real wages for low income workers. Greenstein said the poverty rate decrease is primarily due to three public policy changes that CBPP has championed: expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, reform and expansion of SNAP (Food Stamps), and creation of a low-income component of the Child Tax Credit. The two tax credits now lift 10 million people out of poverty each year, and SNAP lifts 5 million children out of poverty. This year the State of California is instituting its own Earned Income Tax Credit, which will help 2 million Californians have more money in their pockets.
Because of the size of California’s population and its national influence, Stacy Dean, VP for Food Assistance Policy, says CBPP pays particular attention to how key anti-poverty programs are working in the state. When the Affordable Care Act became law, CBPP designed and promoted an innovative way that states could screen their SNAP caseloads, identify people eligible for Medicaid, and enroll them virtually automatically. California adopted the CBPP-designed option; it screened the CalFresh caseload (California’s version of SNAP) and instead of waiting for people to apply, notified the SNAP participants it identified as being Medi-Cal eligible and offered them health insurance. This resulted in nearly 200,000 people, most of whom were previously uninsured, signing up for Medi-Cal without needing to submit new paperwork.
CBPP has also played an instrumental role in helping schools in high-poverty areas offer free breakfast and lunch to all students through the School Meals program. CBPP designed a proposal, which Congress approved on a bipartisan basis, to allow schools with high concentrations of kids qualifying for SNAP to serve school meals free to all children and receive federal reimbursement, without the previous onerous documentation. This initiative has resulted in more than 14,000 schools nationwide adopting this option, allowing them to provide school meals free, without paperwork or stigma, to 6.7 million children. Predictably, attendance at participating schools has gone up along with academic scores, according to Dean.
Policy Futures is also creating a leadership program to train young professionals in Washington, D.C., where it’s headquartered, to keep low income residents in mind when they are designing programs and policies. Greenstein says he wants current and future policy makers to look through the lens of poverty when making decisions.
“We don’t want our research to sit on a shelf,” says Greenstein. “We want the policies improved and changed so they impact large groups of people from less fortunate backgrounds and give them a better chance at success.”