Developing State Budgets in Tough Fiscal Times

Posted October 21, 2009, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

In hard times, state pol­i­cy­mak­ers must make tough choic­es to bal­ance state bud­gets while pro­tect­ing pub­lic well-being. The fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples, drawn from Pol​i​cy​for​Re​sults​.org, a web­site man­aged by the Cen­ter for the Study of Social Pol­i­cy with Casey sup­port, offer guid­ance for mak­ing the best deci­sions for chil­dren and families.

1. Pro­tect the most vulnerable

Reces­sions sharply increase unem­ploy­ment, home­less­ness, and hunger. Fund­ing ben­e­fits and ser­vices for peo­ple who need them most not only min­i­mizes human suf­fer­ing; it also reduces future costs to the state.

2. Focus on results

Focus­ing on mea­sur­able results can help set pri­or­i­ties and guide deci­sions about the best use of scarce resources.

3. Max­i­mize return on invest­ment — over the short and long term.

Espe­cial­ly when mon­ey is tight, it pays to invest in cost-effec­tive ser­vices, pro­grams, and poli­cies that pro­vide imme­di­ate ben­e­fits for chil­dren and fam­i­lies and that keep pay­ing as chil­dren grow into pro­duc­tive adults.

4. Stim­u­late the econ­o­my by invest­ing in chil­dren and families

Pro­vid­ing finan­cial sup­port to strug­gling fam­i­lies who will imme­di­ate­ly spend it on neces­si­ties both quick­ly injects mon­ey into the econ­o­my and ben­e­fits those most like­ly to be hurt by the eco­nom­ic downturn.

5. Strength­en com­mu­ni­ty resources

In times of hard­ship, many peo­ple turn to extend­ed fam­i­lies, neigh­bors, faith groups, local food banks, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty resources. By invest­ing in local assets, pol­i­cy­mak­ers can strength­en neigh­bor­hoods, spur local inno­va­tion and prob­lem-solv­ing, and tap the capac­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ties to pre­vent the need for more exten­sive assistance.

6. Seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty for reform

When bud­gets are tight, it’s eas­i­er to devel­op polit­i­cal con­sen­sus to elim­i­nate well-inten­tioned but inef­fec­tive pro­grams that don’t help vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and fam­i­lies. Tough times pro­vide impe­tus for chang­ing the way deci­sions are made and for build­ing the capac­i­ty to make effec­tive financ­ing, bud­get­ing, and pol­i­cy choices.

For more guid­ance, vis­it Pol​i​cy​for​Re​sults​.org.

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