State of Homelessness in America 2011

The National Alliance to End Homeless has released a new report which "reveals national and state level homeless counts, but also delves into economic indicators and demographic drivers." Selected key findings include:
  • The nation’s homeless population increased by approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009 (3 percent increase).
  • A majority – 31 of 50 states (including Hawaii) and the District of Columbia - had increases in their homeless counts.
  • The largest percentage increase was in the number of family households.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 {homeless} were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not intended for human habitation.

State of Homelessness in America (available as PDF, 48 pp, 5 MB) by M William Sermons and Peter Witte

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Need For Actions to Reduce and Adapt

America's Climate Choices, a series of congressionally-mandated studies, emphasizes why the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. Available to read online or purchase PDF or print copies:

Watch video, America's Climate Choices Series

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Don't raise SS retirement age

In a Fact Sheet issued today, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) gives ten reasons not to raise the retirement age for Social Security. Among them:
  • Raising the retirement age is a benefit cut, and benefits are already too low.
  • It cuts benefits for all retirees, whether they retire at age 62, age 70, or any other age—and it is a cut for retired workers’ spouses, widows, and dependents, as well.
  • Social Security’s problem is not that people are living longer.
  • The biggest financial problem facing Social Security is rising income inequality, which cannot be addressed by raising the retirement age.
  • The shortfall can be reduced without cutting benefits. Taxes should be raised on the highest earners, who pay a much lower share of their income in Social Security taxes.

Top Ten Reasons Not to Raise the Retirement Age (pdf, 2pp/76kB), Aug. 24, 2010



More on CDHPs

Last week FR published a post on consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs). Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a July study on CDHPs, specifically health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). Analyzing data from two large employers--one public and one private--and several published studies, GAO compared enrollees in HRAs with those in preferred provider organization (PPO) plans. Generally, spending and utilization of health care services were less for HRA enrollees than for those who remained in PPOs.

CONSUMER-DIRECTED HEALTH PLANS: Health Status, Spending, and Utilization of Enrollees in Plans Based on Health Reimbursement Arrangements, GAO-10-616 (pdf, 47pp/504kB), July 16, 2010

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Digital lending library

The Internet Archive, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, was founded in 1996 "to build an Internet library." According to its website, its collections now include "texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages." It recently launched a project called OpenLibrary.org, a collaboration of libraries providing e-books to check out. Read about how it works on the Internet Archive's Digital Lending Library page.

Currently available at OpenLibrary.org:
  • More than one million digital versions of older books are now available for free download in a variety of formats.
  • Over 70,000 current digital books to those with a library card from many of the over 11,000 libraries that subscribe to the OverDrive service.
  • Genealogical books from the Boston Public Library.
  • How-to and technical book collection via the Internet Archive.
  • Marine life reference materials from the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
  • Spanish texts from Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala.



Consumer-driven health plans

Consumer-driven health plans are offered by self-insured employers and administered by a third-party. They include health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reviews CDHPs in its August Issue Brief. Among its findings: about 19 million, or 11% of those with private insurance, were enrolled in a CDHP in 2009; and premiums were generally lower than for non-CDHPs. The paper discusses the impact of CDHPs on health care services such as preventive care, enrollee knowledge of cost sharing, medication adherence, emergency room use, quality of care received, and employer contributions.

(In June, EBRI reported on financial aspects of HSAs and HRAs, see FR post.)

What Do We Really Know About Consumer-Driven Health Plans?, August 2010
      Issue Brief (28pp/587kB)
      Executive Summary



Long-term care generosity index

According to a report issued this week by the Rockefeller Institute of Government on Medicaid and long-term care, states vary widely in their coverage of eligible populations, the amount, duration, and scope of services, the amount of care that is covered, and their administrative processes. Finding that there is no standard definition or a way to measure key dimensions of long-term care, the report predicates, "Perhaps the most straightforward measure of state long-term care policy is the generosity of its coverage of both populations and services."

To measure generosity, compiling a "Long-Term Care Policy Generosity Index," the authors looked at coverage and service policies for each state in 2004 for 8 major categories of long-term care--home health, hospice, personal care, private duty nurse, intermediate care facility/mental health, inpatient psychiatric care, intermediate care/mental retardation, and nursing home--and ranked states accordingly. New York came in first; Hawaii ranked 48th.

Medicaid Policy and Long-Term Care Spending: An Interactive View
      Report (pdf, 20pp/224kB), August 2010
      News release, Aug. 3, 2010



Cloud in government

In April Darrell West, Director of Brookings Governance Studies, authored a report on how cloud computing could cut costs for the federal government (see FR post). In the first paper of a series launched by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings last week, West reviews current federal IT policy and discusses rules, practices, and procedures that limit innovation. Among his recommendations:
  • Public officials should develop more consistent rules on computing across desktop, laptop, mobile, and cloud platforms.
  • The use of video, collaboration, and social networking should be authorized for congressional offices. This would make legislative branch policy consistent with that of the executive branch.
  • Judicial branch computing should be modernized, with greater emphasis on cloud computing.
  • There should be a more uniform certification process for federal agencies.
  • Privacy rights should be placed on the same footing regardless of whether a person is using desktop or cloud computing.

Steps to Improve Cloud Computing in the Public Sector, July 21, 2010
      Report (pdf, 13pp/255kB)
      Executive Summary

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Just in ... on education

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University (NYU), critiques current conventional wisdom about the American educational system. She herself has changed positions on what she previously advocated for reform. Her prescriptions for improving our schools:
  • Leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen
  • Devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning
  • Expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools
  • Pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not "merit pay" based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores
  • Encourage family involvement in education from an early age
Some chapter titles: - Hijacked! How the Standards Movement Turned Into the Testing Movement. - NCLB: Measure and Punish. - Choice: The Story of an Idea. - The Trouble with Accountability.

LA217.2 R38 2009
283 pp.
ISBN-10: 0465014917
ISBN-13: 978-0465014910



Seniors: help for financial decisions

Noting that most retirees have acquired significant assets as well as debts, and that cognitive decline afflicts older adults, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College in a recent brief discusses four policy responses to help seniors make effective financial decisions. The paper lists them from least to most paternalistic:
  • Disclosure. "Legislation to strengthen disclosure requirements has recently been introduced in many different domains....However, we are skeptical that improved disclosure will be effective in improving financial choices."
  • Financial "Driving Licenses." "...require that individuals pass a 'license' test before being allowed to make nontrivial financial decisions, such as opting out of 'safe harbor' investment products. Such proposals would need to overcome several logistical problems."
  • Mandatory Advance Directives. "...require older adults to put in place a financial advance directive before reaching a certain age so that the management of their assets could be transferred to a third party in the event of their incapacity."
  • Regulatory Approval. "Instead of primarily targeting individual investors, regulations could instead target the financial products themselves."

What Is the Age of Reason? July 2010
      Brief (pdf, 8pp/249kB)