Flying under the radar amid all the rancor over the 2015-16 budget, a bill called the “Results First Act” passed the state House this week with strong bipartisan support.
The legislation, co-sponsored by state Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom, would authorize the state to apply cost-benefit analysis to government assistance programs.
The goal is a shift in focus from evaluating success “based on number of people enrolled” to measuring if a program is “effectively helping to lift these individuals out of poverty,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland,
The Results First Act would authorize the state’s Independent Fiscal Office to collect data from other state agencies.
The data would be analyzed using tools developed by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The results would be published online. Ultimately, the data would help policymakers “assess and restructure social programs,” the bill’s sponsors said.
By partnering with the national Results First program, “we will be able to determine which programs will be the most beneficial for the Commonwealth,” Cutler said in a statement.
The bill passed the House on Monday with 185 “yea” votes and 10 “nays.” It now heads to the Senate.
There’s a strong focus in the social-services world these days on measuring cost-effectiveness and performance outcomes, said Dan Jurman, the new CEO of the Community Action Program of Lancaster.
“I’m good with that,” as are most nonprofit professionals, he said. A results-oriented approach “means we’re focused on helping people.”
Programs don’t want to keep seeing the same people cycling through, he said: Helping someone become self-sufficient frees up resources to help someone else.
Advocates of the cost-benefit approach say states have historically paid far too little attention to real-world data in designing policy.
The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative lists 16 state partners, including two Pennsylvania neighbors: New York and West Virginia. Four California counties also are participating.
In Iowa, a Results First analysis of offender rehabilitation programs found wide disparities in effectiveness. Some drug treatment programs yielded as much as $35 in benefit per $1 invested, while the state lost $3 per $1 invested in its domestic violence treatment programs.
Iowa is adjusting its programs accordingly, and monitoring the results, Results First says.
Jurman has been on both sides of the evaluation process. As a grant writer and grant manager, he documented programs’ return on investment.
Conversely, as a citizens advisory council member in Hillsborough County — Florida’s fourth-largest county by population, thanks to Tampa — he helped analyze nonprofits’ performance and make funding recommendations to county commissioners.
While he hasn’t dealt first-hand with Results First, the Pew and MacArthur organizations are trusted sources, he said.
“As long as the metrics are fair and give a full picture of what the state is saving, then I think you’ve got a great recipe,” he said.