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?

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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. 
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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.

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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

4 Ways to Help More Families Use Vouchers to Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has reduced families’ housing cost burdens and homelessness and boosted their housing stability, but its performance in helping families live in low-poverty, high-opportunity neighborhoods has been disappointing, as we explain in our recent paper.

Overall, just about 20 percent of the families with children who use housing vouchers live in high-opportunity neighborhoods with access to good schools, safe streets, and high rates of employment.  Almost 10 percent — including a quarter of a million children — of families in the program live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, where at least 40 percent of the residents are poor.… Read more

A Dangerous Way to “Fix” American Government

October 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

“A dangerous proposal is circulating in states across the country that could widen political divisions and jeopardize cherished rights and freedoms,” CBPP President Robert Greenstein explains today in the Washington Post’s PostEverything blog.  He continues:

The push is coming primarily from well-organized, arch-conservative groups seeking to capitalize on the decline in public trust in government to limit the federal government’s role and spending powers.  And the method they prefer is a constitutional convention — the first since the 1787 conclave that produced the U.S.

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Improving Children’s Chances of a Better Life

October 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm

In a new commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, CBPP Vice President for Housing Policy Barbara Sard outlines steps that federal, state, and local agencies can take to help tens of thousands of children and their families avoid living in violent neighborhoods of extreme poverty — and enable more of them to choose to live in low-poverty neighborhoods with high-quality schools.  Here’s the opening:

Nearly 4 million children live in low-income families that receive federal rental assistance, which not only helps them keep a roof over their heads but also has the potential to enable children to grow up in better neighborhoods with more opportunities.  

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