A happy problem.
A new study by the County Welfare Directors Association of California confirms the wisdom of that decision. This report provides a bird's-eye view of California's safety-net programs and related economic benefits for communities. The report, which has implications for all states, depicts how in this challenging time, human service programs in California are caught in the convergence of three forces:
* A sudden and rapid escalation of demand;
* Profound historic cuts in state funding that have seriously eroded services; and
* A deteriorating economy that depletes county resources to cope.
The study says temporary programs to protect people who are the most vulnerable in a deep recession have the largest "job bang for the buck." Compared with the spending rate of other stimulus proposals, funds to protect the vulnerable are spent very quickly. Beacon Economics, which evaluated the economic impact of spending on human service programs in California, says human services provide a 32 percent boost to the economy. The USDA estimates that every dollar in SNAP (Food Stamps) returns $1.78 in economic growth through increased purchasing, shipping, harvesting, processing, administration, etc.
APHSA worked extremely hard during the past several months to expand human service funding in the stimulus plan with remarkable results. The good news for states in dire circumstances is that it will provide some much-needed relief. But it is a double-edged sword. There is a critical need to balance the immediate needs resulting from budget shortfalls against the reality that ARRA funds will end in two years. With additional funding also comes added accountability and transparency requirements. States are getting mixed messages from Washington. They are told to spend the money quickly, because Americans are suffering, but don't spend it on anything non-stimulative. The message is do it fast, cheap and good. The stakes are high as many politicians and reporters who are critical of the stimulus package are lying in waiting for the first misstep. Included in the ARRA legislation is $359 million for additional oversight and the hiring of new auditors--one soon coming to a desk near you.
While the funds are desperately needed, concerns fall into several categories:
* The short time to obligate and spend the funds
* The separate tracking and reporting requirements
* Identifying the number of jobs created or protected
* The need for an exit strategy when the funding expires
* The delay in the guidance from a number of federal agencies while the clock is ticking
* The policy implications are that investing in human services not only can minimize the worsening conditions of the safety net, but also offers greater potential to help the economy in general, even though it is temporary. Policymakers should factor in the economic stimulus effects of human service programs. Also, an ineffective safety net can make an already bad situation worse. Last but not least, the current crisis offers an opportunity to evaluate how well the safety net works in times of severe economic crisis. The stimulative effects should be independently researched and evaluated. As an industry, we have an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that human services can yield one of society's greatest returns on investments. That's why this turns out to be a "happy problem."
Jerry W. Friedman
Editor's Note: "Jerry's Blog" is now a feature on APHSA's web site, www.aphsa.org. Please go there to share your thoughts with Jerry.
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|Title Annotation:||director's memo; United States recession's impact on social welfare|
|Author:||Friedman, Jerry W.|
|Publication:||Policy & Practice|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2009|
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