The work of IEL’s Policy Exchange was recently highlighted in an op-ed piece written by Gary MacDougal for the New York Times. In the piece, MacDougal advocated for converting the current system of federally funded anti-poverty measures – wherein the nearly $1 trillion of taxpayer money goes into a maze of federal, state, and local programs for low-income Americans – to a system of block grants to states, similar to Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicaid reform. To support his argument, MacDougal cited the Simulation Hearing on Obtaining Federal and State Assistance, a study conducted by IEL that identified 33 federal-level committees, subcommittees, cabinet departments, and agencies that all participate in the oversight of at least one anti-poverty program. The study describes a family applying for assistance from major public programs and highlights how difficult it can be to figure out how to make the programs work effectively.
Learn more about the Simulation Hearing on Obtaining Federal and State Assistance as well as read additional resources below.
This House of Representatives hearing was conducted by IEL in 1995 under the leadership of Policy Exchange Director Margaret Dunkle. You will follow Members of Congress and other policymakers as they step into the shoes of a family applying for assistance from major public programs. And you will see how difficult it was, even for the very people who created the laws, to make these programs work effectively for the working-poor family in this simulation.
Follow-Up Articles on the Simulation Hearing
Three articles describe conclusions from the Simulation Hearing, which was repeated for multiple audiences.
In “A Bottom-Up Look at Welfare Reform,” IEL Policy Exchange Director Margaret Dunkle describes how awkwardly assistance programs fit together – a situation that has changed little in the ensuring years. (Education Week, November 29, 1995)
“An Exercise in Lying and Cheating” asks if states will learn from the complexity of federal programs and do a better, more streamlined, job of protecting children and the poor. (San Diego Union-Tribune, February 9, 1996)
In “Taste of New Welfare Era Numbs Even Pretenders,” columnist Gordon Smith recounts his frustrations as he participated in this simulation. He describes the process of applying for aid as “frustrating, confusing, dehumanizing.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, November 1, 1997)
Understanding Federal Programs for Children and Families
The complexity of federal programs designed to help children and families is daunting, but not unique to social programs. To untangle which Congressional Committees and Executive Branch agencies control programs for children and families, IEL Policy Exchange Director Margaret Dunkle analyzed 141 programs – income, health, housing, nutrition, education and training, and social services.
First, for Congressional Committees: This graphic Understanding Congressional Committees, shows how 21 Congressional Committees and 29 subcommittees have responsibility over one or more program for children and families. The accompanying narrative Understanding Congressional Committees, explains that this complexity is a byproduct of our decentralized democracy, and that states and localities often add their own levels of complexity even as they complain about federal requirements.
Second, for Executive Branch Departments: This graphic Understanding Executive Branch Departments, illustrates how 14 different federal departments control programs for children and families. The narrative Understanding Executive Branch Departments, points out that just 10 of the 141 programs account for two-thirds of all funding – and that most of these programs do not focus on children and families with low incomes. The bottom-line conclusion: it would be inaccurate to conclude that this analysis makes the case for federal block grants to replace individual social programs.
The source document for this analysis was a report by the Congressional Research Service. See Federal Programs for Children and Families: A Tool for Connecting Programs to People. This version of that 1999 report includes an introduction by IEL Policy Exchange Director Margaret Dunkle.
For a similar 1995 analysis of federal programs for children, see Who Controls Major Federal Programs for Children and Families: Rube Goldberg Revisited, by Margaret Dunkle.