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    A Trusted Source

    Urban follows the evidence, wherever it leads. Our independent, rigorous research answers the tough questions facing policymakers, philanthropists, practitioners, and community advocates who are committed to improving people’s well-being and building a just, equitable society.


    Transforming Prisons for the People Who Live and Work There

    State-run prisons in America house more than 1 million people, employ more than 200,000 corrections officers, and consume a significant share of state budgets. Despite their scale and effect on people’s lives and communities, prisons are among the least transparent and most understudied public institutions in our country.

    Maximum-security housing units at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center sit below dormitory-style housing at the minimum-security Algoa Correctional Center

    Urban is helping change that. Since 2019, we have been collaborating with carceral facilities in Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri, and Vermont to build evidence on prison conditions and pilot strategies to make prisons more humane, safe, and rehabilitative for the people who live and work there.

    Urban experts are also working with research partners in the five states to conduct annual surveys in each facility. Departments of correction have used our survey outcomes to identify and implement policy changes. As of 2023, Urban’s findings and recommendations have resulted in the following: 

    • Facilities in Colorado, Delaware, and Vermont renovated housing units to look more like apartments than prison cells.
    • The Missouri facility created a new reentry center with programs that prepare incarcerated people for jobs when they are released.
    • The Delaware facility built a health and wellness center that offers a nutrition program and substantially improved exercise facilities.

    The research Urban is conducting is grounded in principles of racial equity and meaningful participation with the people incarcerated and working in each prison. Since the start of our five-year initiative, Urban has delivered insight into issues from solitary confinement and reproductive health care to how to improve jobs for incarcerated people and the mental and physical health of correctional officers.

    The reforms that have already taken place reflect strong evidence that shows providing incarcerated people an environment [PDF] with opportunities to learn, improve their health, and have some autonomy over their day—such as preparing their own meals—helps them successfully reenter their communities.


    Supporting New Mothers with the Care They Need after Giving Birth

    A policy change inspired by Urban evidence resulted in tens of thousands of previously ineligible women now having a full year of postpartum care covered by insurance. Such care is essential as maternal mortality rates in the US continue to rise.

    Illustration by Scott Siskind / Urban Institute

    This is especially true for Black women, who are nearly three times as likely to die from pregnancy complications as white women. Most of these deaths are preventable. However, about 1 in 10 new mothers lack access to affordable health insurance—and therefore, critical health care—after giving birth.

    That’s in part because public health insurance for women postdelivery—which is when many poor health outcomes occur—has been limited: Eligibility for pregnancy-related Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage ends two months after a woman gives birth.

    In the past year, that limitation started to ease.

    As of November 2023, 37 states and the District of Columbia had extended postpartum Medicaid/CHIP eligibility to a full year—policy shifts that were informed by groundbreaking Urban research in 2021. Our analysis found that 55 percent of uninsured new mothers would be eligible for Medicaid if pregnancy-related coverage was extended to one year after giving birth in every state. That included more than 100,000 mothers who would be newly eligible.

    Urban’s estimates helped build the foundation for change: The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, a nonpartisan legislative branch agency, included Urban data in a 2021 report to Congress [PDF] recommending a mandatory 12-month postpartum extension. Later that year, Congress gave states the option to extend postpartum Medicaid/CHIP eligibility, which took effect in 2022.

    Now, tens of thousands of women across the country who would otherwise have been uninsured during their first year after giving birth are newly eligible to receive the care they need. That means they will have a full year to take care of any pregnancy-related complications, manage chronic conditions, and simply adapt to life with a newborn.

    Given the evidence on prior coverage extensions, new mothers are also likely to experience better mental health and fewer financial stresses. That, in turn, has been shown to improve the health and well-being of children.


    Bringing Homeownership within Reach for More Black Families

    Thanks in part to Urban research, the city of Washington, DC, has a set of recommended approaches for boosting Black homeownership, and many first-time homeowners can receive financial support for home repairs.

    Owning a home is a primary way families build wealth, but the opportunity isn’t equally available to everyone: The legacies of racist lending practices and policies, such as redlining, continue to contribute to today’s disparities in homeownership rates and generational wealth


    These inequities persist in many places across the country, including the nation’s capital, where 34 percent of Black residents own their homes compared with 49 percent of white residents—a gap that has widened in recent years.

    Washington, DC, officials sought to change that. In 2022, the city established a Black Homeownership Strike Force to boost the number of Black homeowners in DC. It also dedicated $10 million to a Black Homeownership Fund to support the strike force’s goal.

    The city turned to Urban for our deep expertise in housing supply, financing, and preservation—including in our hometown of DC—to help inform the strike force’s deliberation and decisionmaking. Partnering with DC-based Howard University, Urban provided housing trend data and identified promising practices being carried out in similar housing markets across the country to encourage Black homeownership.

    Ultimately, the strike force arrived at a goal of gaining 20,000 new Black homeowners by 2030. It also offered ten recommendations [PDF] for reaching that goal, many of which are grounded in evidence Urban provided. Based on one recommendation, city leaders in 2023 established a grant program that provides qualifying applicants up to $25,000 for repairs on a first-time home purchase.


    Removing Barriers So Families Can Put Food on the Table 

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps more than 42 million Americans buy healthy food for themselves and their families each year. To qualify, people must in part show that their assets—such as a bank account balance—fall below certain limits determined by state governments.

    Screenshot of Urban Institute’s SNAP benefits data tool.

    These asset limits have unintended consequences, however: They may keep families in need from receiving food assistance and other support. They can deter families from opening a bank account or saving enough money to withstand financial shocks, such as an unexpected car repair or medical bill. They also increase the number of families churning on and off benefits.

    Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services took notice of our research and used Urban’s findings to help make the case for a 2019 administrative policy change. The amendment allowed families to have up to $15,000 in assets—an increase from $5,000—and still be eligible for food assistance and other public benefits.

    Building on this change driven in part by Urban research, Michigan then passed a law in 2023 that removed asset limits altogether for SNAP benefits.

    Michigan now joins 36 other states where people with low incomes can feed themselves and their families while keeping a functional car and some money in the bank. And today, more than 700,000 Michigan households receive SNAP benefits, including 531,000 children.


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    A Convener