What Is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities?
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The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is one of the nation’s premier policy organizations working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
The Center conducts research and analysis to help shape public debates over proposed budget and tax policies and to help ensure that policymakers consider the needs of low-income families and individuals in these debates. We also develop policy options to alleviate poverty.
In addition, the Center examines the short- and long-term impacts of proposed policies on the health of the economy and the soundness of federal and state budgets. Among the issues we explore are whether federal and state governments are fiscally sound and have sufficient revenue to address critical priorities, both for low-income populations and for the nation as a whole.
Over the past 30 years, the Center has gained a reputation for producing materials that are balanced, authoritative, accessible to non-specialists, and responsive to issues facing the country. Our materials are used by policymakers and non-profit organizations across the political spectrum, and by journalists from a wide variety of TV, radio, print, and online outlets.
The Center was founded in 1981 to analyze federal budget priorities, with particular emphasis on the impact of various budget choices on low-income Americans. Our work has broadened considerably over the years as we have responded to new developments and entered new areas of research.
Most notably, the Center initiated extensive work on budget priorities and low-income programs at the state level during the 1990s in response to the devolution of responsibility over many areas of low-income policy from Washington to the states. State work, which we conduct in part through the Center’s State Fiscal Project, now comprises about half of the Center’s activities. We provide information and technical assistance to state non-profit organizations and government officials on issues ranging from state budget priorities and revenue structures to the design and implementation of low-income programs.
At the state level, we also collaborate with non-profits — including members of the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative — to build their capacity to conduct sound budget and policy analysis and participate effectively in policy debates. With our assistance, a rising number of these groups are working on fiscal priorities and new directions in alleviating poverty.
At the international level, the Center established the International Budget Partnership in 1997 to help civil society organizations in new democracies (such as former Soviet republics) and developing countries conduct budget analysis designed to make these countries’ budget systems more open and more responsive to the needs of society.
Fiscal issues: The Center analyzes major federal budget and tax proposals from the standpoint of fiscal responsibility, examining their effects on the economy and the federal budget, especially over the long term. For example, we explore the potential impact of these proposals on the long-term fiscal challenges posed by the retirement of the baby-boom generation. We also examine the effects of major tax proposals on households in different income groups.
In addition, the Center explores the tradeoffs between competing budget and tax proposals that reflect different priorities, such as tax cuts that primarily benefit upper-income households versus investments in programs aimed at low- and moderate-income households or initiatives that benefit the nation as a whole, such as improving education or protecting the environment.
Our involvement in fiscal issues is extensive at both the federal and state levels, and it includes analysis of the effects that federal policy choices can have on state budgets.
Low-income programs and tax areas: The Center analyzes proposed changes in federal and state programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals. One issue we consider is how a proposal would affect the federal-state relationship in administering these programs: we seek to enhance state flexibility while retaining federal financial commitments and federal legal protections for program recipients. We also help implement changes in these programs.
In addition, the Center designs improvements to make these programs more accessible to eligible populations, more effective in helping beneficiaries meet basic needs while moving toward self-sufficiency, and simpler to administer for federal and state governments. We work on programs such as:
The Center’s work on means-tested programs includes our efforts to improve the access of low-income legal immigrants to these programs, both by expanding eligibility and by removing barriers that prevent already-eligible immigrants from obtaining benefits. The Center is tapped as a source of analysis and innovative policy options by a variety of organizations that work on immigrant issues, as well as by federal and state policymakers.
In addition, the Center is expanding its activities to design and promote reforms in the benefit structure of programs — particularly Supplemental Security Income, TANF, and Social Security — to encourage disabled individuals to return to work.
Outreach campaigns: Programs designed to reduce poverty among working poor families are less effective if eligible families and individuals do not know the benefits exist or how to apply for them. Accordingly, the Center operates two outreach campaigns to help working poor families receive two key benefits for which they are eligible: low-income tax credits (specifically, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit) and children’s health insurance through Medicaid or other state child health insurance programs.
Social insurance programs and pensions: The Center evaluates Social Security reform proposals, examining their implications for the program’s basic social insurance character and long-term solvency, as well as their effects on the federal budget. (Several prominent reform proposals would require the transfer of large amounts of general revenue to Social Security.) We also examine ways to ensure long-term solvency that also strengthen rather than weaken Social Security for low-income and minority beneficiaries.
Our work on the unemployment insurance system includes analyzing the adequacy of unemployment benefits programs in helping low-income workers meet basic needs during temporary spells of unemployment. We also design improvements to those programs. This work intensifies during economic downturns.
In collaboration with the Brookings Institution, we evaluate pension reform proposals to determine their likely effect on pension coverage for low-income households. Also, to help low-income families make high-return investments such as homeownership or a college education and to prepare for retirement, we promote asset building among these families. This work includes promoting policy improvements targeted to families who build modest assets through Individual Development Accounts or retirement accounts such as 401(k)s.
Poverty and income trends: The Center analyzes trends in poverty and income at both the national and state levels, including trends in income disparities. For example, we publish periodic reports that provide state-by-state data on income disparities and state tax burdens on poor households. We also examine the effectiveness of safety-net programs in reducing poverty.
While numerous other non-profit organizations work in one or more of the policy areas listed above, the Center possesses a combination of strengths that is unique:
Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, published in 2007 with support from the Aspen Institute Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program, highlights the Center as one of the nation’s 12 most effective nonprofits. It notes that despite having the smallest annual budget of the 12 groups, the Center “has influenced federal and state policies and budget decisions that have affected the lives of millions of low-income Americans” and is “a great example of getting more bang for your buck.”
Information dissemination: One reason for the Center’s effectiveness is the speed with which we disseminate the results of our research and analysis. We post Center reports immediately and in their entirety to our website, which receives millions of “hits” each month. We also operate email notification lists that instantly inform hundreds of reporters, policymakers, non-profits, and other interested individuals whenever we post a new analysis.
Trainings and technical assistance: The Center’s effectiveness also derives in part from the trainings and technical assistance we provide to state-level non-profits to expand their capacity to conduct policy analysis on issues related to state fiscal issues, budget priorities, and low-income programs. (The International Budget Partnership provides similar assistance to non-profits in other countries.) We also assist policymakers and their staffs on fiscal issues and issues related to low-income program design.
Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein named the Center 2011's "Think Tank of the Year," calling CBPP the "fastest, fairest, and smartest policy think tank in Washington."