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Boustany Opening Statement: Expanding Opportunity by Funding What Works

March 17, 2015

WASHINGTON — Today, Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairmain Charles Boustany (R-LA) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing titled, “Expanding Opportunity by Funding What Works: Using Evidence to Help Low-Income Individuals and Families Get Ahead,” the second in a hearing series focused on ways to help move America’s families forward.

“Welcome to today’s hearing. This is the second in our hearing series on welfare reform topics. Today, we will explore what we know about theeffectiveness of programs designed to help low-income families get ahead. We have a talented set of witnesses with usto review what we know about how current programs perform, and how we canimprove that performance to help more families move up the economicladder. 

“Unfortunately, as we will hear in today’s testimony, while we all wantto know about whether programs are working or not, what we actually know isquite limited. According to two formerWhite House officials—one Republican, one Democrat—basedon our rough calculations, less than $1 out of every $100 of governmentspending is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is beingspent wisely.

“And among the few programs that have been rigorously evaluated, theevidence suggests most don’t work.According to nonpartisan experts, Since 1990, there have been 10 instances in which an entire federalsocial program has been evaluated using the scientific gold standard methodof random assignment. Of those 10 programs that were evaluated, nine were foundto have weak or no positive effects.

“Some programs do worse than just waste money—they may actually harmthose they are meant to help. Forexample, the former Mentoring Children of Prisoners program was intended tosupport children with an incarcerated parent. However, one in five mentorshipslasted lessthan six months, and researchshows such short-term mentoring relationships reinforce feelings of insecurityand abandonment, likely leaving children worse off than they would have beenwithout this benefit. Another programdesigned to prevent juvenile crime actually increased the chances thatparticipants were later incarcerated. Having—and using—data like that would not only let us directtaxpayer funds to better uses, but prevent us from causing unintended harm to thevery people we want to help.   

“Think about the information that many use every day to make the bestdecisions with our own money. If you’remy age and your family’s washing machine breaks, you might turn to ConsumerReports to find the most reliable replacement for your money. Many people might check online ratingservices to find the right phone or car for them. In both cases, consumers have a wealth ofdata to compare one brand to another and make an informed judgement about wheretheir money is best spent. Yet policymakers don’t have the same sort of dataabout the effectiveness of government programs—which millions of familiesdepend on for both basic financial needs and for the hope of a better life for themselvesand their children. That’s just not goodenough. 

“What we are left with are more questions than answers. Is the money we are spending today on thebest mix of policies and programs to help people get ahead? What are we spending money on now that couldbe better reinvested elsewhere? If wehad more money to invest, where should we put it? More often than not, we just don’t know. 

“The bottom line is this: We needto evaluate every program, determine what works, and focus resources oneffective programs so more people can get ahead. Low-income individuals and taxpayersalike deserve programs that are effective in promoting opportunity and helpingpeople improve their lives. This effortto fund what works is not about ideology or about cutting governmentspending—it’s about doing what’s right, especially for those who need the besthelp we can give. 

“I look forward to all of our testimony today.”