Informing and Influencing Public Policy

Posted May 10, 2010, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog informingandinfluencingpublicpolicy 2010

Sev­er­al years after the 1996 over­haul of the nation’s wel­fare sys­tem, researchers dis­cov­ered an unin­tend­ed con­se­quence: Many low-income peo­ple lost their food stamps. Casey Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Doug Nel­son played a key role in ensur­ing that pol­i­cy­mak­ers received data doc­u­ment­ing the prob­lem, and the issue was resolved.

The project that made this pos­si­ble, Assess­ing the New Fed­er­al­ism, is one of sev­er­al mul­ti-foun­da­tion ini­tia­tives Nel­son has put his lead­er­ship behind to help devel­op a swift response to poli­cies or pro­pos­als that could adverse­ly affect dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren and families.

Led by the Urban Insti­tute, the project used data from its Nation­al Sur­vey of America’s Fam­i­lies to track the effects of new poli­cies such as the wel­fare over­haul on chil­dren and families.

Because we had set up this capac­i­ty, we were able in very short time to cap­ture the data and put it in the hands of researchers who used their analy­sis to inform pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and poli­cies were changed,” says Michael C. Lara­cy, Casey’s direc­tor of pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy. Doug led qui­et­ly and behind the scenes. He saw emerg­ing polit­i­cal pol­i­cy changes and put in place exact­ly the right mech­a­nism to pro­tect kids and families.”

Urban Insti­tute Pres­i­dent Robert D. Reis­chauer says that with­out Assess­ing the New Fed­er­al­ism, the debate about whether this was a con­struc­tive redi­rec­tion of pol­i­cy would not have been an evi­dence- and fact-based debate.” The project, which ran from 1996 to 2006, had a sub­stan­tial impact,” result­ing in mod­i­fi­ca­tions to a pol­i­cy affect­ing low-income fam­i­lies, he says.

Oth­er ini­tia­tives Nel­son has pushed for to inform pol­i­cy­mak­ing include:

The State Fis­cal Analy­sis Ini­tia­tive has spread from 10 to 32 states, gar­ner­ing sup­port from mul­ti­ple foun­da­tions. The ini­tia­tive enabled many state groups to get involved for the first time in state bud­get and tax issues, doing analy­sis and form­ing coali­tions to advo­cate for poli­cies that ben­e­fit poor chil­dren and fam­i­lies, says Robert Green­stein, direc­tor of the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­i­cy Priorities.

The Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter, launched with a small Casey plan­ning grant, now has a mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar bud­get and mul­ti-foun­da­tion sup­port. It esti­mates the real-world effects, for var­i­ous seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, of fed­er­al tax pro­pos­als or changes.

The Cen­ter illus­trates how Nelson’s lead­er­ship has helped blend research, analy­sis, demon­stra­tion projects, and advo­ca­cy to pro­duce prag­mat­ic, effec­tive ways to actu­al­ly change poli­cies and change lives,” says Greenstein.

Ron Hask­ins, a for­mer White House and con­gres­sion­al advi­sor on wel­fare issues who co-directs the Brook­ings Cen­ter on Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, says mak­ing sure all voic­es in the debate are heard is a hall­mark of Nelson’s approach. One exam­ple he cites was a Casey-spon­sored con­fer­ence on wel­fare, held after the con­tro­ver­sial over­haul. It was exact­ly a Casey event — per­fect­ly fair, all sides rep­re­sent­ed, an open forum.”

Also crit­i­cal has been Nelson’s per­sis­tence in ensur­ing that those most affect­ed by poli­cies play a role in shap­ing them. He rec­og­nizes that the peo­ple, fam­i­lies, youth, con­sumers, and advo­cates clos­est to the work are the best infor­mants about the urgency of the poli­cies need­ed,” says Sania Met­zger, Casey’s direc­tor of state child wel­fare policy.

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