An InSIPPient Disaster?

When it comes to the major issues of our day, a proposed budget cut that would negatively impact efforts to gather data on the efficacy of entitlement programs likely garners little attention or interest. In fact, if you haven’t already scrolled down the page or departed this site to catch up on news of the latest celebrity to enter rehab, you may very well have dozed off. Yes, the aforementioned issue is decidedly less than sexy — kind of like Karl Rove dancing to hip-hop. But lacking sexiness or life-and-death drama does not make it any less important or worthy of attention. Indeed, it can be argued that such issues deserve more regard rather than less, given the neglect they typically receive.

Anyhow, please try to rouse yourself and attend to yet another effort by the Bush administration to quash anything that smacks of sound science or research, as reported here by the Washington Post:

Funding Cut for Data on Economic Well-Being

It is one of the most important surveys the government conducts — the only large-scale measurement of the impact of Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, unemployment and other safety-net programs for the poor.

But proposed Bush administration budget cuts to the Survey on Income and Program Participation, known as SIPP, will significantly reduce the amount of information it generates for the next four years.

“We’ll have the statistical equivalent of a Katrina on our hands if the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] refuses to request funding for the SIPP,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “We need the SIPP to determine which government programs are working and how to best make use of taxpayer dollars in tight fiscal times.”

The Census Bureau, which oversees the survey, plans to reduce the number of people questioned nationwide from 45,000 to 21,000. The result will mean that detailed data will be generated for just three states — California, Texas and New York — instead of the more typical 31 states, said Preston Jay Waite, deputy director of the Census Bureau.

The survey will still produce national data, but the ability of state officials and lawmakers to learn how programs are working on a state level will largely evaporate, he said.

“It’s not desirable for sure, but there are a limited number of priorities and resources available,” Waite said. “This is the biggest sample we can allocate within the budget. Life is a trade-off.”

Since the survey began in 1984, participants have been interviewed three times a year and have been tracked for four years. By the end of the four years, a great amount of detail is collected on their economic fortunes. Public officials and researchers rely on those findings to determine how government programs are used, which are most effective and which are faltering. [full text]