New Evidence-based Reemployment Services Program

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (HR 1892), signed into law last week, has at least one other new evidence-based program to go along with its other provisions on child welfare, pay-for-success, and the MIECHV reauthorization.

This one, which will be run by the Department of Labor (DOL), will fund evidence-based reemployment services to help people on unemployment insurance obtain jobs. It looks like it could begin as soon as FY 2019 (which starts October 1, 2018). It may need to be funded through the regular appropriations process first, but some reports suggest it is already funded through mandatory allocations.

Here are some of the key provisions (see the related bill text for full details):

  • Evidence Definitions: The law directs DOL to define the relevant evidence standards, including programs that are backed by “high or moderate causal evidence.”
  • Evidence Building Requirements: Any funded intervention that does not meet the law’s high or moderate evidence requirements must be evaluated. However, no more than 10 percent of federal grant funds can be spent on these evaluations. Within three years, DOL is directed to submit a report to Congress describing promising interventions used by the states.
  • Evidence Use Requirements: Program funds may only be spent on programs that are “demonstrated to reduce the number of weeks for which program participants receive unemployment compensation by improving employment outcomes.” Starting in FY 2023, however, at least 25 percent of the funds must be spent on reemployment programs backed by high or moderate causal evidence (see above). This percentage increases to at least 50 percent by 2026.

The program is authorized at $33 million in FY 2019, $58 million in FY 2020, and $83 million in FY 2021, with higher amounts in subsequent years. The program provides formula funding to states (which includes an outcomes-based component). States may then provide subgrants for the eligible services, depending on the details of their approved state plans.

How much evidence exists for these services now? One example is the Nevada Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment Program, which was rated as “Near Top Tier” by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy. Others can presumably be found on DOL’s Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research.


Posted in Workforce Issues

Evidence Provisions in the Trump Budget

Earlier today, the Trump administration released its proposed budget for FY 2019, which begins October 1. Like last year, the Trump budget includes a chapter on evidence-based policy. But first a run down on some of the major budget items of interest to the evidence community.

Key Evidence-based Programs

Here are the budget highlights for some of the most prominent evidence-related programs.

  • Overall Research & Development Budget: The budget is proposing a 2 percent increase in overall federal spending on R&D, or about $118.1 billion under a new OMB definition of the term. However, all of the proposed increase is defense-related. The budget proposes cuts for most domestic research programs, including cuts in funding for NIH and the National Science Foundation.
  • Education Research and Innovation (EIR) program: The budget proposes a significant increase for this program (which is the successor to i3), from $99 to $180 million. The detailed budget justifications suggest that the administration wants to repurpose most of these funds to support STEM programs. (See pp. 21-22 of that document).
  • Institute of Education Sciences (IES): The budget proposes a significant cut in funding for IES, the major evidence-building agency at ED. Overall funding would drop from $658 to $522 million. Most of the reduction would come from eliminating the Regional Education Laboratories (RELs) and funding for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (see below). More information is available in the IES budget justifications.
  • Social Innovation Fund: Just kidding. It’s still dead. But the budget is proposing eliminating CNCS as a whole. See below.
  • Teen Pregnancy Programs: The budget continues funding for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) at $75 million. (See SIRC’s previous story about these programs). However, it would eliminate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program, currently funded at $101 million annually.

Here are the links for the overall agency budgets.

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Posted in Evidence

Pay for Success Legislation Becomes Law

Legislation that will create a new $100 million program to fund pay-for-success projects was included in a budget bill that Congress passed in the early hours of February 9.

The legislation will provide competitive awards to states and local governments for pay-for-success projects and feasibility studies. The program will be run by the Treasury Department. The law directs the department to launch the competition within a year of the law’s enactment, with winners announced six months after that. (For more details, see the pay for success bill text).

The law also creates two advisory bodies:

  • Federal Interagency Council on Social Impact Partnerships: Chaired by the OMB director, this 11-member council is tasked with advising the Treasury Secretary on projects and policy-related matters. It is composed of representatives from most of the domestic cabinet-level agencies.
  • Commission on Social Impact Partnerships: This 9-member bipartisan commission is tasked with advising the Treasury Secretary on project applications and feasibility studies. It is composed of representatives appointed by the president and congressional leaders.

The new program will pick up where the Social Innovation Fund, which funded similar projects, left off. It was defunded by Congress last year.

The coordinating bodies created by this legislation could also help oversee other pay-for-success programs created over the past few years, including K-12 legislation, a major transportation authorizing bill, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Pay-for-success provisions were also proposed in recent bipartisan drafts of welfare legislation.

Correction: This story originally indicated that the new program was funded at $92 million. That was the last House figure, but the final version of the bill funded it at $100 million.

Posted in Social Impact Bonds / Pay for Success

Evidence-based Child Welfare Legislation Enacted

Evidence-based child welfare prevention programs will receive funding under a new law that was included in a large funding bill that Congress passed in the early morning hours of February 9.

The legislation, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, will fund evidence-based preventive mental health, substance abuse, and in-home parenting programs for children at risk of entering the child welfare system. Starting October 1, 2019, the legislation will allow Title IV-E entitlement money to be used for these services for up to 12 months. (See the relevant provisions of the bill or the full bill text for details.)

The Family First legislation was nearly enacted in late 2016, but pulled at the last moment after objections by Sen. Richard Burr. Several states had also objected to the bill’s funding of congregate care.

A report released by RAND last year suggested that prevention programs like those funded by the bill could achieve better child outcomes and save money.

What Counts As Evidence-Based?

To qualify for federal funding, the services must be trauma-informed and meet the legislation’s standards for programs that are promising, supported, or well-supported by evidence. At least half of the federal share of this funding must be spent on services that meet the highest (well-supported) evidence standard.

The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to issue guidance on the provisions later this year — by October 1, 2018 — a year before they become effective. The guidance must also include a pre-approved list of services that satisfy the bill’s evidence requirements. After that, HHS is directed to update the list as often as it deems necessary. The bill also authorizes the creation of a clearinghouse to rate the research on these services, either by the department or through a grant or contract.

Many of these programs have already been rated by clearinghouses such as the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Effective Prevention Programs (NREPP), although the latter clearinghouse has been frozen since last September. The new law’s evidence standards are reportedly very similar to those used by the California clearinghouse.

Several other resources are also available that could help child-serving agencies implement such evidence-based programs, including:


Posted in Children and Families

Home Visiting Extension Authorizes Pay-for-Outcomes Transactions

Legislation that would extend the federal home visiting program for another five years, which was included in a final budget bill that was passed by Congress earlier today, also includes provisions that would authorize the use of pay-for-outcomes transactions in the program.

The extension of the Maternal, Infant, & Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program was included in the final version of the bill. The pay-for-outcomes provisions are in Section 50605 of the MIECHV section of the law.

The provisions are optional, but if they are used they must meet the following requirements:

(4) Pay for outcomes initiative.–The term `pay for outcomes initiative’ means a performance-based grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or other agreement awarded by a public entity in which a commitment is made to pay for improved outcomes achieved as a result of the intervention that result in social benefit and direct cost savings or cost avoidance to the public sector. Such an initiative shall include–

(A) a feasibility study that describes how the proposed intervention is based on evidence of effectiveness;

(B) a rigorous, third-party evaluation that uses experimental or quasi-experimental design or other research methodologies that allow for the strongest possible causal inferences to determine whether the initiative has met its proposed outcomes as a result of the intervention;

(C) an annual, publicly available report on the progress of the initiative; and

(D) a requirement that payments are made to the recipient of a grant, contract, or cooperative agreement only when agreed upon outcomes are achieved, except that this requirement shall not apply with respect to payments to a third party conducting the evaluation described in subparagraph (B).

The provisions would reauthorize MIECHV through 2022. The program technically expired late last year, which has reportedly caused some states to freeze new enrollments. The program is one of a handful of federal initiatives that are evidence-based.

Posted in Children and Families, Home Visiting

Does Congress Need an Evidence Office?

Does Congress need an office to help it sort through the ever-growing body of research and analysis so that it can make its decisions more evidence-based?  That was one of the intriguing ideas quietly floated by the Bipartisan Policy Center in a report it released last year.

Could such an office be created? Maybe. (The relevant language from the BPC report is pasted at the bottom of this story). But even if not, the ideas may show up on Capitol Hill in other ways.

Such an office could certainly be useful. As rigorous evidence steadily grows across the range of policy issues of interest to Congress, it is impossible for any one person to keep up, much less have the expertise needed to figure out which studies are sound and which are not. An independent office that helped Congress keep tabs on the research could be a valuable resource.

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Posted in Evidence, Politics

Evidence Commission’s Bill Still Held Up In the Senate

A House hearing held yesterday on data issues — including recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking — highlighted tensions between data and privacy concerns that may be holding up legislation (HR 4174 and S 2046) that would implement some of the commission’s recommendations.

The legislation has been framed as a “downpayment” on the recommendations, which were released in September. The House passed its version of the bill relatively soon afterward, on November 15, probably owing to the strength of its principal House sponsor, Speaker Paul Ryan. The Senate has not yet moved its version of the bill.

A good summary of the legislation is available from the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has been taking an active supporting role. The bill omits what was probably the commission’s central recommendation, however — the creation of a National Secure Data Service that would act as a liaison for researchers seeking access to federally-held administrative data sets.

An Education Week story on the bill suggested that it may be getting held up for the same reasons that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the primary federal education data privacy law, has not been reauthorized. Those disagreements may also be holding up separate legislation that would reauthorize IES, the research agency at the Department of Education that houses the What Works Clearinghouse. So the evidence commission’s bill is not alone.

The commission stressed the importance of privacy concerns in its recommendations last fall. They drew support from some data privacy advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center at a September 7 roll out event. The organization also issued a statement on January 29, in advance of the House hearing.

Will the Senate pass the evidence commission’s bill? It is difficult to know. The upper chamber tends to move bills like this more quietly, often by consensus and voice vote. It is hard to know in advance when or if that might happen. (And this assumes a hold has not been — or will not be — put on it by an undisclosed senator, which happens from time to time).

A video of yesterday’s hearing, held by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is below. The witness list and written testimony are here.



Posted in Evidence

Policy Drivers: Putting the Politics Back in Implementation

Implementation of evidence-based programs and practices is a topic that has received increased attention recently — and rightly so as more laws, grants, and other policies are beginning to be adopted with evidence requirements.

What does it take to implement (i.e., successfully replicate or scale) an evidence-based policy or program? As more organizations have begun to explore the topic, we are beginning to find out.

Thus far, however, a related topic seems to be largely missing from the conversation — politics. Politics is centrally important to implementation for at least two reasons. First, it creates the legal authority, funding, and other capacities that are needed to implement a program effectively. Second, politics does not stop when a law has been enacted. It continues throughout the implementation process.

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Posted in Implementation, Politics

Canary in a Coal Mine? SAMHSA’s Clearinghouse Signals Larger Threat to Evidence-based Policy

It started as a simple story. Once again the Trump administration had demonstrated its reputed disdain for facts and evidence. This time it had revoked the contract of one of the federal government’s top evidence clearinghouses — one that reviewed studies of mental health and drug treatment programs to determine their effectiveness.

The decision, which came quietly during the Christmas holidays, seemed to further prove that the administration cared nothing about facts, nothing about evidence, and little about evidence-based approaches to opioids, which it had elevated to a White House-level priority.

And then the story began to fall apart. An independent review of the clearinghouse had revealed substantial problems with its ratings, including significant potential conflicts of interest. The newly-appointed SAMHSA director, who terminated its contract, echoed those criticisms in a strident public statement.

But underneath the charges and counter-charges, there was a quieter, lurking story — one of widespread problems and alleged corruption in medical research. It is an important story, one that could be a harbinger of growing threats to the evidence-based movement as a whole.

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Posted in Evidence, Health