BY: AIF Staff
Former Speaker Paul Ryan created the American Idea Foundation to help promote and scale solutions that are supported by evidence and data and that spring from innovative partnerships between local leaders, community researchers, and policymakers. The Foundation’s mission is to highlight local success stories, reinforce their efforts with research and data, and work with legislators on public policies to replicate these winning strategies in other parts of the country. This approach was the motivation behind many of the accomplishments during Speaker Ryan’s tenure – from Opportunity Zones to rethinking the government’s approach to poverty, and it continues to motivate him to this day.
One new policy that embodies Speaker Ryan’s and the American Idea Foundation’s approach is the Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA), which was signed into law in February 2018. The premise of the legislation is simple, as Speaker Ryan said at a January 2020 forum on evidence-based policymaking:
“With the passage of Social Impact Partnership and the Pay for Success Act, we provided funding for states to partner with the federal government, to identify key metrics for social programs and make payments when results are delivered. What a novel concept!”
As the Department of the Treasury details, the purpose of SIPPRA was to “improve the lives of families and individuals in need in the United States by funding social programs that achieve real results.” It is, in short, a “pay for success” model.
To fund an initial round of demonstration projects, SIPPRA appropriated $100 million to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, $15 million of which was set aside for evaluation costs, to support state and local governments in building a foundation for outcomes-based decision making. Though the funding goes exclusively to state and local governments, it can be used by an entire umbrella of social service providers – from those tackling issues as diverse as homelessness, childhood health, vocational training, obesity, and family stability. The common thread is that any selected program that receives SIPPRA funds must focus on outcomes and measurable results as government funding is contingent on hitting quantifiable metrics rather than satisfying subjective, partisan whims.
Distilled down to its essence, SIPPRA has two primary benefits:
First, SIPPRA takes an evidence-based approach to lifting Americans out of poverty: Funding flows to programs whose methods have been evaluated using data, supporting real-world efforts that achieve positive results. The legislation moves funds away from ineffective programs and towards those that have demonstrated track records of accomplishment. And the federal government is only on the hook financially if the program achieves its stated aims and outcomes. This ensures that policymakers are not only being good stewards of taxpayer dollars but also are prioritizing funding for programs that actually help Americans in meaningful ways.
The Office of Senator Susan Collins of Maine succinctly described the major steps associated with obtaining SIPPRA funding:
- A state or local government explains the desired outcome, the program and services provided, any past evidence of positive results and savings expected
- A state or local government provides a feasibility study that shows the providers have the capacity needed to run the project; have experiencing serving the targeted population; and have the ability to raise additional funds from other investment sources
- If selected, the federal government designs an independent evaluation to assess a program’s progress in achieving the desired outcomes. This ensures that the results have been achieved before taxpayer dollars are spent.
- If the desired outcomes are realized, the federal government then pays the state or local government and its investment partners a pre-negotiated amount for funding the project and taking on the risk of success.
The various steps of the program highlight the second major advantage of this pay-for-success model. As the Department of the Treasury detailed, SIPPRA encourages “public-private partnerships that bundle philanthropic or other private resources with existing public spending to scale up effective social interventions already being implemented by private organizations, nonprofits, charitable organizations, and State and local governments across the country.”
“One program Young’s office pointed to as a good Indiana candidate for funding is a service that connects registered nurses with low-income pregnant women.
“Run by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, the Nurse-Family Partnership makes sure expectant mothers get good prenatal care, improve their diets, understand the benefits of breast feeding and other healthy behaviors. Since the program started in Indiana five years ago, 90 percent of the babies were born at a healthy weight, 90 percent of the mothers initiated breastfeeding and two-thirds of the mothers who had smoked quit, according to Goodwill.
“A 2005 independent study of the program, which operates in communities throughout the country, concluded the return for each $1 spent could be more than $5 worth of health and other benefits. The Indiana program serves 1,100 mothers a year, a fraction of the estimated 14,000 who could benefit…”
As the example of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana shows, by prioritizing evidence and outcomes and by directing federal funds to programs with local support, non-federal resources, and track records of achievement, the federal government can more effectively address issues like early childhood health and development.
SIPPRA funding only represents a small fraction of the overall amount that the federal government spends on fighting poverty, but it represents a marked change in our approach. It ties together the best local initiatives that are making true impacts; the investors who care about the future of their communities; and the federal government, as it incentivizes evidence-based interventions.
SIPPRA is just getting started. The Commission on Social Impact Partnerships has identified 9 deserving organizations, ranging from a New York Clean Energy Project to an Oklahoma Substance Abuse program. The common theme is all of these programs are making amazing impacts in their communities and hopefully, represent the next generation of successful solutions that are grown locally and supported federally.
In building programs based on evidence of what works, SIPPRA has the potential to finance the most effective solutions for fighting poverty, which originate not from Washington D.C., but from leaders on the ground in communities across the country. SIPPRA funding will support individuals and organizations that have been making a difference in their communities for decades, while bringing their ideas to policymakers to expand their reach. This intersection of community-based approaches and government support is what will ultimately most improve the lives of Americans in need.