In Case You Missed It…

October 31, 2014 at 3:55 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on state budgets and taxes, health care, the federal budget and taxes, and the safety net.

  • On state budgets and taxes, Michael Leachman excerpted his recent debate with the Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore on Kansas’ radical tax cuts. Michael Mitchell explained why states should spend less on maintaining extremely high prison populations and more on schools.  He also analyzed the causes and costs of high incarceration rates and listed four ways that states can reduce incarceration rates.
  • On health care, Jesse Cross-Call showed that states that have expanded Medicaid as part of health care reform expect their share of Medicaid spending to grow more slowly this year than other states.
  • On the federal budget and taxes, David Reich explained why the Social Security Administration’s backlog of continuing disability reviews is rooted in program underfunding, not government incompetence.
  • On the safety net, Ife Floyd highlighted the continuing decline in the purchasing power of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cash benefits for the nation’s poorest families.

This week, we released papers on state criminal justice reforms and investments in education, the threat to TANF research funding, and states’ TANF cash benefit levels.

CBPP’s Chart of the Week – From Our Report on State Criminal Justice Reforms

A variety of news outlets featured CBPP’s work and experts recently. Here are some highlights:

States Are Prioritizing Prisons Over Education, Budgets Show
Huffington Post
October 30, 2014

Study argues Alabama’s incarceration rate — up 349 percent — crowding out other priorities
October 28, 2014

States Slashing Education Spending
24/7 Wall Street
October 27, 2014

Don’t miss any of our posts, papers, or charts — follow us on Twitter and Instagram.  We’re still accepting internship applications for Spring 2015.  Apply today!

State Welfare Benefits Continue Shrinking

October 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2014 and are now at least 20 percent below their inflation-adjusted 1996 levels in 38 states, our new report explains.  As the country moves past the economic downturn and state revenues recover, states should halt the erosion of TANF benefits and begin restoring the purchasing power lost since TANF’s creation in 1996.

While eight states raised benefits between July 2013 (the start of fiscal year 2014 in most states) and July 2014, the remaining states didn’t, allowing inflation to continue to erode the benefits’ value. … Read more

4 Ways States Can Reduce Incarceration Rates

October 31, 2014 at 11:51 am

I outlined recently the causes and costs of states’ high incarceration rates. While most states, under both Republican and Democratic control, have enacted criminal justice reforms in recent years to reduce prison populations without harming public safety, most states’ reforms to date haven’t been extensive enough to have a big impact on prison populations.

State policymakers need to enact reforms that target the main drivers of high incarceration rates: the number of people admitted (or re-admitted) into correctional facilities and the length of their prison stays.… Read more

Social Security’s Backlog Rooted in Underfunding, Not Incompetence

October 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggests the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) large backlog of uncompleted continuing disability reviews reflects government incompetence.  Actually, the backlog in these reviews, which determine whether recipients of disability benefits through Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) remain eligible, is really about underfunding.

In fact, it’s the House’s refusal in recent years to fully fund this type of program integrity work under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) — part of an unfortunate pattern of congressional underfunding of these types of activities in a host of agencies — that has contributed to the backlog that the majority leader now deplores.… Read more

Debating Kansas’ Tax Cuts

October 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

With Kansas’ radical tax cuts drawing national attention this election season, I recently debated the Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore, who advised Governor Sam Brownback on the tax cuts, on their impact.  The full debate, published by State Tax Notes and moderated by its commentary editor Doug Sheppard, is here.  Below is a brief excerpt:

Leachman:  In 2012 you and Arthur Laffer wrote, ‘‘The quality of schools also matters as does the state’s highway system, but it takes years for those policies to pay dividends, while cutting taxes can have a near immediate and permanent impact, which is why we have advised Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states to cut their income tax rates if they want the most effective immediate and lasting boost to their states’ economies.’’  Why — 18 months after the income tax rate cuts were implemented — isn’t Kansas’s economy performing better?

Read more

The Causes and Costs of High Incarceration Rates

October 29, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Most states’ prison populations are at historic highs, I explained yesterday, imposing high costs on states even as many states have cut education funding.  Here’s a closer look at the causes and impacts of high incarceration rates:

Incarceration rates have risen mainly because states are sending a much larger share of offenders to prison and keeping them there longer — two factors under policymakers’ direct control.  Reforms to reduce prison populations will need to target these two areas.

More specifically, research on the causes of rising incarceration rates has found:

  • Crime rates have risen and fallen independently of incarceration rates. 
Read more

States Should Spend Less on Prisons, More on Schools

October 28, 2014 at 2:58 pm

The huge growth in state prison populations in recent decades has created mounting budget challenges for states, our new report explains.  State economies would be much stronger over time if states invested more in education and other areas that can boost long-term economic growth and less in maintaining extremely high prison populations.

If states were still spending on corrections what they spent in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, they would have about $28 billion more each year that they could spend on more productive investments or a mix of investments and tax reductions.… Read more

State Medicaid Spending Growing Slower in Expansion States Than Others

October 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

States that have expanded Medicaid as part of health reform expect their share of Medicaid spending to grow more slowly this year than states that have not expanded, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report finds.  That’s yet more evidence that states are headed down divergent paths based on whether they have taken up the expansion.

The 28 states (including Washington, D.C.) that have expanded Medicaid or will expand it this fiscal year (2015) expect their Medicaid spending to grow by 4.4 percent this year, compared to 6.8 percent among non-expansion states, Kaiser’s annual survey finds (see graph).… Read more

In Case You Missed It…

October 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on housing, health care, state budgets and taxes, and a constitutional convention.

Read more

Two Policy Changes Could Help Public Housing Families

October 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Tens of thousands of children whose families can afford decent housing by living in public housing live in extremely poor neighborhoods, as I explained yesterday.  But policymakers can take steps to improve these kids’ access to safer neighborhoods with better schools.

Congress has underfunded maintenance and repair of public housing for decades, causing a substantial loss in the number of units available as projects deteriorate.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) aims to preserve — and, if necessary, rebuild — distressed rental units. … Read more

Two Programs Could Boost Opportunity for Families With Project-Based Rental Assistance

October 23, 2014 at 2:36 pm

More than 700,000 low-income families with children can afford decent housing by living in public housing or privately owned properties that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidizes.  As we explain in our recent paper, for about 200,000 of these families, having an affordable place to live entails living in an extremely poor neighborhood — where at least 40 percent of the residents have incomes below the poverty line, and crime rates tend to be higher and schools lower performing. … Read more

Medicare and Medicaid Should Be Protected in Trade Agreements

October 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

CBPP, AARP, the AFL-CIO, Consumers Union, and ten other national organizations have written to the U.S. Trade Representative asking that Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs be excluded from the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of pending trade agreements.

ISDS would give companies a new legal avenue to challenge U.S. pricing and patent policies for drugs and medical devices: the ability to sue the U.S. government before an international arbitration panel that wouldn’t be subject to normal democratic checks and balances. … Read more