From Safety Net to Solid Ground
This year could bring some of the most significant changes to the social safety net in a generation—perhaps even in its history. As changes, cuts, and restrictions are proposed to programs that provide critical support for housing, food, health care, and other needs, Americans already struggling to make ends meet could face greater adversity.
Sign me up to test new ways to make the safety net unnecessary. I want everyone who can to contribute and to earn a paycheck that provides a decent living. But reducing spending and erecting new barriers to access existing programs—without introducing other tools to move people out of poverty and into opportunity—is shortsighted and will have a predictable result.
There are promising ideas and significant evidence about what it takes to dramatically increase economic mobility in America. A single mom with two young children can’t hold a job if she doesn’t have a safe place to leave her kids. Requiring her to work to keep her housing assistance or health care does not solve her dilemma. The dignity and autonomy of a job already give her a powerful incentive to work, but she probably needs some support to stay in the workforce and thrive. The data show that when we invest in people in these ways, the results can be transformative.
Now, as we face a potential turning point for the country’s longstanding safety net programs, Urban has launched From Safety Net to Solid Ground. This new initiative draws upon our analytic depth and breadth of expertise on safety net and social insurance programs to search for what helps people achieve self-sufficiency and to deliver timely data to policymakers, state and local leaders, advocates, and practitioners keen to protect struggling families from losing critical stabilizing resources.
The Safety Net to Solid Ground team recently released data-rich insights on new Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky and on the impact of proposed budget cuts that might be considered in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. They also created an interactive map to illustrate the difference between average costs for a modest meal and the per-meal benefits offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in most US counties.
Fewer resources and new flexibility will leave critical choices to the states. Urban is completing work on new data tools to assess the potential impact on families of states’ proposed cuts and program changes. By engaging with state officials and advocates, we can also understand the choices they face and provide insight on how those decisions affect people and the economy.
If you are interested in following the From Safety Net to Solid Ground work, sign up for updates or follow us at @urbaninstitute.