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Key Research on Poverty Is At Risk: Why You Should Care

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By Roberta Downing, PhD (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Directorate – Government Relations Office)

We are at risk of losing crucial data about some of the poorest, most vulnerable families in America. A new interpretation of a budget rule ended research funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and put in jeopardy funding for the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Without these research programs, the federal government would lose crucial details about the lives of millions of people living in poverty.

What do these research programs do?

TANF is our country’s low-income cash assistance program. Its research program provides earnings and employment information about TANF recipients. This data helps states make evidence-based decisions about the best ways to help TANF recipients find and maintain employment and how to improve service delivery systems. Without it, the federal and state governments would not have important information about best practices to ascertain the effectiveness of this program and how best to serve TANF recipients. (To learn more about the discontinuation of TANF research funding, read this report).

The Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is also in jeopardy. SIPP is a crucial government survey that follows individuals over a few years, collecting monthly data about their income, employment status, and participation in antipoverty programs. For example, SIPP:

  1. collects data that allows us to estimate the number of families living in extreme poverty – an income of less than $2 per person, per day. Despite our nation’s affluence, millions are living on extremely low incomes and we need to understand this serious problem fully;

  2. asks important questions about the financial strain and hardship experienced by low-income families, child well-being, child care expenses, and the financial impacts of marriage and separation;

  3. helps us understand how unemployment benefits impact those who have lost their jobs and what happens when those benefits expire. Understanding the effectiveness of our unemployment programs remains essential, given that roughly three million people continue to be unemployed for longer than six months.

SIPP data is key to building evidence-based policies. Without it, Congress and the federal government would operate with less information about the millions of American families struggling with hunger, deprivation, unemployment, financial instability, and the overall burden of poverty. The Congressional Budget Office also uses SIPP data to determine how potential changes that Congress proposes to antipoverty programs affect the federal budget.

These programs require only modest funding – $15 million for the TANF research program and $10 million for SIPP. Congress can extend these programs so that they are automatically continued every year with minimal budget impact. We must bring attention to this issue so that Congress acts to continue this important research.

What can you do?

Show Congress that you value these data sources! APA’s CEO, Dr. Norman Anderson, sent a letter to Congress urging action on this very issue. You can too. Urge your representatives to restore funding for the TANF research program and protect SIPP from any cuts! Click here to send a letter to your members of Congress, urging them to protect these programs! Congress has already begun deliberating on legislation to fund the federal government after the current spending measure expires on December 12th. Act now to help save this important research funding!

Image source: Flickr user Bill Selak via Creative Commons

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