Renee Ellmers on data-driven policy solutions to poverty


Rep. Renee Ellmers showed up to a panel at the South By Southwest conference Sunday to talk about how big data can transform poverty policy. Ellmers, who was also here on Saturday to talk about broadband competition in the communications space, appeared at this panel in place of Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who sponsored a Social Impact Bond bill last summer that was one of the topics of discussion.

Ellmers spoke alongside Kevin Corinth of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Michele Jolin, Managing Director of America Achieves.

The repeated theme of the session focused on making results-oriented, evidence-based policy solutions.

Corinth emphasized divorcing emotion from policy decisions and the importance of crafting legislation that works for people rather than causes.

Ellmers agreed that there is “a lot of emotion on both sides” of the political spectrum and that a results-oriented effort presented a bipartisan opportunity to address issues like poverty, homelessness and mental illness.

Jolin gave the example of the Social Impact Bond Act, sponsored by Reps. Todd Young (R-IN) and John Delaney (D-MD) in June 2014. The act would provide for a way of public-private partnership — for private investors to inject resources into public social causes with government agencies repaying the costs with minor profits in return if a third-party evaluator finds that the services provided by the investors meet a measurable outcome. (The Center for American Progress has more background information on social impact bonds here.)

From the perspective of AEI, Corinth said of this legislation as something that government should already be doing and that this solution of “adding on more red tape to remove red tape” is “interesting.”

While Ellmers saw the results-oriented approach like that of the Social Impact Bond Bill as a bipartisan and fact-based way to seek policy solutions, she added that it wouldn’t be a panacea.

“But I think it’s also important to point out that this is a process,” Ellmers said. “And that this isn’t one piece of legislation that is going change poverty in this country. It has to be coupled with other pieces of legislation and policy changes that are moving forward.”

She gives the example of mental health issues to be addressed, pointing out that that is a factor in homelessness and that “our prisons and jails are our new mental health hospitals in this country.”

What, then, of Medicaid expansion, which organizations like the Cone Health Foundation found to be a data-driven solution?

The Cone Health Foundation released a report on the economic and employment impact of Medicaid expansion. With data from 100 counties, it concluded that some 500,000 currently uninsured could be covered under Medicaid expansion and that 43,000 jobs could be added by 2020 to North Carolina’s workforce.

When asked about Medicaid in a separate interview, Ellmers maintained that in North Carolina, it is a “broken system.”

“By just simply adding more on would not solve the problem,” Ellmers said.

“Now, it would give more individuals healthcare relief, but it is not solving the issue at hand,” she said.

Ellmers went on to support Gov. McCrory’s position to hold off on making a recommendation regarding Medicaid expansion until after a decision has been made in the Burwell SCOTUS case regarding the Affordable Care Act.

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