Pay for Success, Child Welfare Evidence Provisions Unexpectedly Struck from End-of-Session Bill

Two sets of provisions widely supported by child welfare and evidence advocates have been struck from a pending bill affecting the National Institutes of Health, called “21st Century Cures.”

According to Congressional Quarterly:

Two bills related to foster care and other children’s services that passed the House by voice vote in June were in the medical innovation and mental health package (HR 34) released last Friday, which the House will debate Wednesday. The bills, a priority for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., were struck after senators led by Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., voiced opposition Tuesday when a North Carolina group home organization protested. …

The other bill (HR 5170, S 1089) that was to be in the package would have awarded federal money to state and local governments who could demonstrate that certain social service programs were achieving a beneficial outcome.

According to the report:

Burr’s last-minute objections caught lawmakers in both chambers off guard. Frustrated Democratic aides questioned why leaders in the House didn’t stand up for the welfare provisions, especially because Burr’s steadfast support for the 21st Century Cures effort probably meant that he would have continued to support the bill overall.

“The bill passed the House unanimously in June and Burr never objected when the bill was hotlined in the Senate,” a Democratic Senate aide told CQ. “Republican leaders backed down, despite the fact this bill has support of more than 500 child welfare groups, including Children’s Defense Fund and American Academy of Pediatrics.”

No word yet from congressional staff on whether the provisions might be reinstated in this or another bill before Congress leaves for the year. SIRC will continue to monitor the situation and report any changes.


Posted in Children and Families, Social Impact Bonds / Pay for Success

Pay for Success Legislation Nears Enactment

Update (11/30/16): The pay-for-success provisions have been unexpectedly dropped from the bill. SIRC’s original story follows below.

Federal legislation that would authorize $100 million for pay-for-success projects (dubbed “Social Impact Partnerships”) has been attached to a larger end-of-year bill that is expected to pass in the House this week and the Senate in the next two weeks.

The latest action on similar legislation had come in late May, when the House passed a nearly identical bill (H.R.5170) sponsored by Reps. Todd Young (R-IN) and John Delaney (D-MD).  Separate legislation was introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in 2015, but it was never acted on.

If it is enacted as expected, the bill would be a nice going away present for Young, who won a race for the Senate in November and will be joining the bill’s Senate co-sponsors in January.

Major Provisions

The legislation tasks the Treasury Department with overseeing the Social Impact Partnership program, although the department may delegate oversight authority for individual projects to other federal agencies. The bill creates a federal interagency council to advise and coordinate with the Treasury Department and a separate appointed commission of experts to assist the interagency council.

Under the bill, the first request for proposals would be issued within a year of  enactment — likely late next year if the bill is enacted by the end of December.  Applications would be restricted to states and local governments, but they would apply on behalf of partnerships that would typically include nonprofit social service providers, intermediaries, evaluators, and philanthropic organizations.

Funding may be provided for projects lasting up to 10 years. However, federal payments will only be made to the state or local governments if the designated independent evaluator has determined that the project has met the requirements specified in the agreement.

Evaluations would need to rely on randomized controlled trials or, where they are not feasible, other methodologies that have been approved by the interagency council that allow for the “strongest possible causal inferences.”

Funds could also be used for feasibility studies. The Social Innovation Fund has been providing funding for that purpose to a number of grantees since 2014.

The full text can be found in Title XXV (p. 943) of the larger bill.

Posted in Social Impact Bonds / Pay for Success

Legislation Promoting Evidence-based Child Welfare Prevention Services Approaches Final Passage

Update (11/30/16): The Families First provisions have been unexpectedly dropped from the bill. SIRC’s original story follows below.

Legislation that would fund evidence-based preventive mental health, substance abuse, or in-home parenting programs for children at risk of entering the child welfare system appears likely to be enacted over the next two weeks, according to the Child Welfare League of America.

An updated version of the Families First Act, which includes the evidence-based provisions, is slated to be attached to a larger bill covering the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration.

The legislation is currently awaiting approval on Tuesday by the House Rules Committee before passage in the full House later this week. The Senate is expected to pass the bill soon afterward, probably by December 9, before sending it to President Obama to be signed into law.

If enacted as expected, the legislation would authorize states to use federal child welfare entitlement (Title IV-E) funds to cover the cost of up to 12 months of the designated preventive services. States would cover half of the costs starting October 1, 2019. The match reverts to existing rates starting in 2025. (See Title XIX, p. 840 for the full bill text.)

The legislation establishes three evidence tiers for eligible services — promising, supported, and well-supported practices.

The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to issue a pre-approved list of services that satisfy the bill’s requirements by October 1, 2018 and to update the list as often as it deems necessary. The legislation also authorizes the creation of a clearinghouse for evaluating research on these services.

Starting October 1, 2019, at least half of the federal share of funding for such services would need to meet the highest (well-supported) evidence standard.


Posted in Children and Families

Woodson Meeting Signals Closer Trump Ties to Ryan on Poverty, Evidence

President-elect Trump today met with Robert Woodson, head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and a close advisor to House Speaker Paul Ryan on poverty issues.

Ryan has actively supported a Republican vision for addressing poverty as part of a larger GOP plan called A Better Way. It contains numerous evidence-based provisions, including pay for success.

Woodson is being considered for the incoming position of HUD Secretary. According to the Washington Post:

If selected, Woodson, who is black, would add diversity to Trump’s team. And he would be responsible for leading education and social reforms in predominantly African American areas, which Trump repeatedly described during the campaign as “failed” and vowed to repair.

“They seem to be very serious about it,” Woodson, 79, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m not job hunting, but we’re talking about how I could possibly work with him. We’re talking about how we could work with those across the aisle to do these things together.”

When asked if Trump officials have specifically discussed a potential Cabinet appointment, Woodson said, “Yes, we’re talking about HUD.”

Woodson is scheduled to meet with Trump on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the president-elect’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

He added that the House speaker has encouraged him as he heads to New Jersey.

“It’s fair to say that Paul wouldn’t mind having me there to work with them on all of this,” Woodson said with a chuckle.

Congressional staff who are familiar with Ryan’s thinking on poverty and evidence-based policy have consistently pointed to Woodson as a source of personal inspiration for the Speaker.


Posted in Children and Families, Evidence, Politics

What Mid-Size Cities Can Teach Feds About Performance

Early lessons have begun to emerge from the three-year, $42 million effort launched last year by Bloomberg Philanthropies to help 100 mid-sized cities improve their performance through open data, performance management, evaluation, and results-driven contracting.

Continue reading SIRC’s column at Government Executive magazine.

Posted in Data, Government Performance, Performance Management

The Future of Evidence-Based Policy Hangs on the Trump-Ryan Relationship

Like nearly every other aspect of the federal political landscape, prospects for evidence-based policymaking were upended by the stunning results of the 2016 elections.

Pre-election polls had predicted a continuation of divided government, with Democrats winning the presidency and possibly the Senate, while Republicans retained control of the House. Had that occurred, it would have extended the existing partisan gridlock, leaving evidence-based policy among a handful of low-profile issues where the two parties might still find common ground.

Instead, Republicans unexpectedly won control of the presidency while retaining control of Congress, sharply shifting Washington’s center of gravity away from bipartisan consensus and toward a new and uncertain balance between the establishment and populist wings of the GOP.

Continue reading SIRC’s column at Government Executive magazine.

Posted in Evidence, Politics

Evidence-Based Policy Proponents Face Cost, Privacy, Political Hurdles

After three initial meetings, early hints are beginning to emerge on what may eventually become a package of recommendations from the congressionally authorized Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.

Enacted in March, the bipartisan commission has been tasked with developing recommendations that would bolster evidence-based policy, principally by making federal data more widely available to program evaluators. Such evaluations have begun to influence funding decisions, both at the federal and state levels, although their direct influence is still small.

Statutorily, the commission’s mission appears to be somewhat narrow, but at its first meeting in July senior Democratic and Republican congressional staff urged it to interpret its mandate more broadly.

Continue reading SIRC’s column at Government Executive magazine.

Posted in Evidence

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Findings Show Benefits, Challenges of Evidence-Based Programming

When the federal government started a new grants program in 2010 to finance and evaluate programs to reduce teen pregnancies, Hennepin County decided to give it a shot.

The Minneapolis-area county already had a pilot project in two suburbs with high teen pregnancy rates that it had developed after intensive consultations with young people, parents, and community organizations. But an influx of federal money would allow it to expand its efforts to encourage young people to delay sex or use contraception.

The county won a five-year grant from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, operated by the Office of Adolescent Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The money paid for two efforts. One, the Teen Outreach Program, was on a list that HHS had compiled of “evidence-based programs” — that is, approaches that had already proven effective through rigorous evaluation.

“It was all the rage,” says Kathy Wick, initiative manager at Better Together Hennepin, the county’s teen-pregnancy program. ”It was really a youth-development program that supposedly had positive results in terms of impacting teen behaviors around pregnancy prevention and whether to have sex or not.”

The Teen Outreach Program (TOP), which had shown good results in a 1997 study,  involves weekly classroom sessions, community-service learning, and adult support. The county spent about $500,000 a year out of its annual $3.3 million grant to conduct a randomized controlled trial involving 1,644 students in 24 middle and high schools.

The results? The program had no impact.

Three months and 15 months after the intervention, participants were just as likely as students who followed the regular school curriculum to have had recent sexual activity as well as unprotected sex. They also scored no better in areas like school performance, school engagement, educational expectations, and civic responsibility.

“We spent five years very intensively building TOP with a whole lot of school partners,” says Katherine Meerse, former manager of Better Together Hennepin. “Results showed it didn’t have an impact, what do we do about that?”

There was only one answer, she says: “It wasn’t effective for our kids, we needed to move on to something that was.” Continue reading

Posted in Children and Families, Evidence, Government Performance

More Data than Evidence in Evidence Commission’s First Meeting

Will the new Evidence-based Policymaking Commission, created by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 30, actually further the cause of evidence-based policymaking?

With just one meeting under its belt, it is too early to know for sure, but the inaugural meeting on July 22 provided reason to worry.

Presentations by executive branch officials, including the Census Bureau (which is staffing the commission), focused almost entirely on improving the quality and usefulness of federal statistics. This focus was also reflected in the meeting’s attendees, most of whom represented various federal statistical agencies, with few (if any) representatives of the federal evaluation community.

Even the one presentation devoted to evaluation — by Raj Chetty of Stanford University — seemed to downplay the usefulness of randomized controlled trials, a gold standard evaluation methodology that was cited as something to support in the authorizing legislation. More broadly, the needs of local practitioners and evaluators, who are commonly on the front lines of evidence-based work, were almost entirely absent from a meeting that lasted over three hours.

Data Data Everywhere

It was a curious start for a commission that drew strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the Obama administration as a way to further the evidence-based policymaking agenda.  The commission is directed by law to issue a report within 15 months of its appointment which, according to an estimate by the chair, Katharine Abraham, will be September 6, 2017.

Continue reading

Posted in Evidence