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Effectiveness of Support Programs Subject of House Hearing

On March 17, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing, “Expanding Opportunities by Funding What Works: Using Evidence to Help Low-Income Individuals and Families Get Ahead.”

“We have solid evidence to support increased investments in programs that help families get ahead,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security, National Women’s Law Center. Ms. Entmacher noted, “I’ll just give a just few examples, focusing on programs within the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee, where solid evidence calls for further investments…The EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] has been dramatically effective in increasing work effort by single mothers. But it provides virtually no help to a childless adult working full-time in a minimum wage job. Indeed, millions of childless workers are taxed into, or deeper into, poverty by federal income and payroll taxes. By increasing the EITC for workers without qualifying children, as policy makers in both parties have proposed, Congress could reward and encourage their work.” She added, “There’s widespread agreement about the effectiveness of home visiting programs for vulnerable families. Ron Haskins [Co-Director, Center on Children and Families, Budgeting for National Priorities, Brookings Institution] highlighted home visiting as one of the programs that ‘produce solid impacts that can last for many years.’ But when the program came up for reauthorization in 2014, it was only reauthorized for a year – and that expires in just two weeks, on March 31. There’s no reason – and little time – to wait.”

“The effectiveness of federal programs is often unknown,” said David Muhlhausen, research fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis, The Heritage Foundation. He continued, “Many programs operate for decades without ever undergoing thorough scientific evaluations. In Do Federal Social Programs Work?, I reviewed 20 scientifically rigorous multisite experimental evaluations of federal social programs published since 1990. Except for the welfare-to-work programs, federal social programs have been consistently found to be ineffective…Evidence-based policymaking is based upon using scientifically rigorous impact evaluations to improve policy decisions. Rigorous impact evaluations that use random assignment provide policymakers improved capability to exercise oversight of government programs and be more effective stewards of the federal purse. There is little merit in continuing programs that fail to ameliorate their targeted social problems. Programs that are unknown to work or that do not work at all do not deserve continued funding. Congress needs to take the lead in making sure that the social programs it funds are evaluated. First, when authorizing a new social program or reauthorizing an existing program, Congress should specifically mandate multisite experimental (random assignment) evaluation of the program.”

The following witnesses also testified:

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