Government safety net programs aim to protect families during tough times—before they fall into poverty. But rising unemployment, foreclosures, and economic distress are putting pressure on a system already in need of updates and repairs.
Urban Institute experts, building on decades of welfare reform research, evaluated public safety nets and proposed new initiatives to bolster work supports and help families gain a stable financial footing. Read more.
Kids’ Share 2014: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children Through 2013, an eighth annual report, looks comprehensively at federal spending and tax expenditures on children. Total federal expenditures on children were up from 2012, but below spending in 2010. Broader budgetary forces will continue to restrict spending on children over the next ten years, despite an overall projected growth of over $1.4 trillion in federal spending. Over the next decade, outlays on children are projected to decline from 10 to 8 percent of the federal budget.
Behavioral economics, which analyzes how behavior sometimes departs from the rational calculation of self-interest, can help Medicaid programs use targeted enrollment strategies more effectively by eliminating apparently modest procedural requirements, which can greatly reduce participation levels. It can also help health coverage applicants receive SNAP, even though demonstrating eligibility for health subsidies and choosing a health plan can tax many consumers' cognitive resources, making it hard to process information about SNAP. For example, health applicants could be given the option to have the state's food agency contact them later to complete a SNAP application by phone.
States and non-profit organizations have used three approaches to successfully integrate enrollment and retention of health and human services programs:
1. Streamlining one program's eligibility determination based on data from other programs. This approach has helped uninsured children receive and retain health coverage, helped low-income seniors obtain SNAP, and produced state administrative savings.
2. Coordinated administration of multiple programs. Administrative savings resulted when multiple programs integrated their systems for case records, data matching, eligibility rules engines, on-line applications, and benefit payment.
3. Coordinating enrollment. Community colleges exemplify sites for enrolling consumers into multiple health and human services at once.
Human services programs can benefit from 90 percent federal funding for information technology investments that are complete by the end of 2015 and that: 1) build a service that helps both Medicaid and human services; or 2) build an interface that helps Medicaid use human services records to verify eligibility or "fast track" enrollment. Once the Affordable Care Act is fully phased in, Medicaid will be the country's most widely-used need-based program. Human services programs can use Medicaid records to streamline eligibility determination, despite limits on information sharing and differences between Medicaid and human services program rules, including household definitions.