Walorski: Fighting Poverty Should Focus on Programs that Work

March 10, 2021 — Blog    — Hearing    — Opening Statements    — Worker and Family Support   

Americans in poverty and looking for a step up are relying on policymakers to invest in programs that work, according to Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Republican Leader Jackie Walorski (R-IN) during a hearing on Health Profession Opportunity Grants (or HPOGs). These grants provide funding for training and supportive services to low-income individuals so they can succeed in the workforce, but evidence is scarce that they have been effective.

Key Takeaways:

  • Republicans’ top priority is to focus on safely re-opening and rebuilding our economy after the pandemic by helping those who are unemployed return to work and bringing individuals off the sidelines and back into the labor force.
  • Bipartisan success in helping those in poverty has led to greater federal funding for programs with proven results. We can do the same thing here by evaluating which models work best.
  • Similar programs exist in other agencies, such as the Health Career Opportunity Program (HCOP) run by Health and Human Services, or the rural health professions program in the Department of Labor. We should make sure all of these are aligned and not duplicative.

Her remarks as delivered appear below.

Thank you, Chairman Davis.

Our country is getting closer to defeating COVID-19 and moving beyond the pandemic that has cost so many American lives.

Republicans’ top priority is to focus on safely re-opening and rebuilding our economy by helping those who are unemployed return to work and bringing individuals off the sidelines and back into the labor force.

Republican Members on this Committee have demonstrated that commitment in our efforts to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which we continue to advocate for as outlined in the JOBS for Success Act.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of TANF. It has been more than a decade since Congress last considered reforms to the program. The JOBS for Success would improve state accountability by targeting TANF dollars to the neediest families and replacing broken process measures with performance indicators to measure employment and earnings outcomes.

Health Profession Opportunity Grants – or HPOGs – are well-suited to be included in a discussion of TANF reauthorization. These grants provide funding for training and supportive services to TANF recipients and other low-income individuals so they can succeed in the workforce. I hope the Chairman will consider a broader approach to improving both of these expiring programs within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

Today’s hearing is about assessing the future of HPOGs. To do that, we must consider how the program has performed since it was first created in 2010. HPOGs are unique because they were designed as a demonstration program and have undergone a federally mandated randomized control trial evaluation.

This gold standard evaluation now includes data collected from nearly 40,000 participants and two rounds of five-year demonstration projects across the country – at a cost of more than 111 million dollars.

Unfortunately, as Democrats on this Committee know, this massive evaluation has found no impact from HPOGs on improving the earnings of participants.

A November 2019 report issued by the HHS Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation looked at outcomes of participants three years after completion. The report found:

“The HPOG logic model suggests the training and services provided by HPOG should produce earnings gains for participants. However, despite the increase in training completion…we found no evidence of earnings impacts in the three years after random assignment.”

A more recent publication looking at short-term impacts on the second round of HPOG participants found that the program increased educational progress and training completion in the short run. However, HPOG 2.0 did not have an impact on overall employment – nor did it increase earnings in the short run.

Mr. Chairman, I request unanimous consent to submit both of these reports into the record.

Given these findings, I’m concerned this program is failing our most disadvantaged workers. I’m also concerned about the national evaluation approach.

HPOG is not an “intervention” or “model” – it is a funding stream for competitive grants. The national evaluation rolls up data across grantees, masking any differentiation between them.

There are 32 HPOG grantees operating across 17 states, all with different career pathways and service partners – making it impossible to identify projects that might be producing better results, and to root out those that aren’t.

I am a strong believer in evaluation and building evidence to help ensure federal taxpayer dollars are invested as effectively as possible to improve outcomes for children and families.

As a Committee, we have worked together on a bipartisan basis to introduce evidence-based policymaking into child welfare programs – creating the Families First Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and providing federal funding for programs with proven results. Mr. Chairman, I hope we can do the same here.

First, we should look at modifying the evaluation of HPOGs to focus on the community level, so we can truly know which programs are performing well, what models work best to help low-income adults prepare for healthcare careers, and how to direct future investment for maximum impact.

Grant awards should be based on demonstrated success in improving employment and earnings outcomes. We should also look at return on investment.

In addition, I know there are other programs operated by HHS such as the Health Career Opportunity Program (HCOP) focused on disadvantaged populations. The Department of Labor also runs a rural health professions program. We should make sure all of these programs are aligned and not duplicative.

Finally, I know some of the HPOG grantees have talked about other reforms that could make a real impact — such as strengthening the focus on case management and addressing the benefits cliff.

I’m hopeful we can work together to make commonsense reforms to identify interventions that can meaningfully help struggling Americans build a pathway out of poverty and fill the critical in-demand healthcare jobs that so many of our communities need.

I look forward to our discussion. With that, I yield back.

SUBCOMMITTEE: Worker and Family Support