What is the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities?
The Center’s Mission
25th Anniversary Video
Independent Sector honored Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, with the 2008 John W. Gardner Leadership Award
Click to watch the tribute video.

25th Anniversary Video
View the video commemorating the Center's 25th Anniversary.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is one of the nation’s premier policy organizations working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.

The Center conducts research and analysis to inform public debates over proposed budget and tax policies and to help ensure that the needs of low-income families and individuals are considered in these debates.  We also develop policy options to alleviate poverty.

In addition, the Center examines the short- and long-term impacts that proposed policies would have on the health of the economy and on the soundness of federal and state budgets.  Among the issues we explore are whether federal and state governments are fiscally sound and have sufficient revenue to address critical priorities, both for low-income populations and for the nation as a whole.

Over the past two decades, the Center has gained a reputation for producing materials that are balanced, authoritative, accessible to non-specialists, and responsive to issues currently before the country.  Our materials are used by policymakers and non-profit organizations across the political spectrum, as well as by journalists from a variety of media outlets.

The Evolution of the Center

The Center was founded in 1981 to analyze federal budget priorities, with particular emphasis on the impact of various budget choices on low-income Americans.  Our work has broadened considerably since then as we have responded to new developments and entered many new areas of research.

Most notably, the Center initiated extensive new work on budget priorities and low-income programs at the state level during the 1990s in response to the devolution of responsibility over many areas of low-income policy to the state level.  State work, conducted in part through the Center’s State Fiscal Project, now makes up about half of the Center’s activities.  We provide information and technical assistance to state non-profit organizations and government officials on issues ranging from state budget priorities and revenue structures to the design and implementation of low-income programs.

Our growing state work also includes collaborating with state non-profits — including the members of the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative — to build their capacity to conduct sound budget and policy analysis and participate effectively in policy debates.  With our assistance, an increasing number of these groups are undertaking work on fiscal priorities and new directions in alleviating poverty.

Another example of the Center’s expansion into new policy areas is the International Budget Partnership.  We established IBP in 1997 to help civil society organizations in new democracies (such as former Soviet republics) and developing countries conduct budget analysis aimed at making these countries’ budget systems more open and more responsive to the needs of society.

Areas of the Center’s Work

Fiscal issues:  The Center analyzes major federal budget and tax proposals from the standpoint of fiscal responsibility, examining their effects on the economy and the federal budget, especially over the long term.  For example, we explore the potential impact of these proposals on the long-term fiscal challenges posed by the retirement of the baby-boom generation.  We also examine the effects of major tax proposals on households in different income groups.

In addition, the Center explores the tradeoffs between competing budget and tax proposals that reflect different priorities, such as tax cuts that primarily benefit upper-income households versus investments in programs aimed at low- and moderate-income households or initiatives that benefit the nation as a whole, such as improving education or the environment.

Our involvement in fiscal issues is extensive at both the federal and state levels and includes analysis of the effects that federal policy choices can have on state budgets.

Low-income programs and tax areas:  The Center analyzes proposed changes in federal and state programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.  One issue we examine is how a proposal would affect the federal-state relationship in administering these programs: we seek to enhance state flexibility while retaining federal financial commitments and federal legal protections for program recipients.  We also help implement changes in these programs.

In addition, the Center designs improvements to make these programs more accessible to eligible populations, more effective in helping beneficiaries meet basic needs while moving toward self-sufficiency, and simpler to administer for the federal and state governments.  We work on programs such as:

  • Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (for example, by encouraging efforts to expand health coverage among low-income working families);

  • food stamps (for example, by designing and promoting options that states can use to simplify and streamline food stamp procedures and thereby boost participation among working-poor families);

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (for example, by helping states design programs that can help TANF recipients succeed in the workplace and increase their earnings);

  • Supplemental Security Income (for example, by promoting policies that increase the fairness and accuracy of the disability determination process);

  • WIC and child nutrition (for example, by helping states contain WIC costs by negotiating advantageous contracts with infant formula manufacturers);

  • low-income housing programs (for example, by designing improvements to help families with housing assistance use it to move to areas with better job opportunities).

  • low-income tax credits (for example, by developing proposals to improve the operation of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit and by helping states create or expand state EITCs).

Part of the Center’s work on means-tested programs involves seeking to improve the access of low-income legal immigrants to these programs, both by expanding eligibility and by removing barriers that prevent already-eligible immigrants from obtaining benefits.  The Center is relied on as a source of analysis and innovative policy options by a variety of organizations that work on immigrant issues, as well as by federal and state policymakers.

In addition, the Center is expanding its activities to design and promote reforms in the benefit structure of programs — particularly Supplemental Security Income, TANF, and Social Security — to encourage disabled individuals to return to work.

Outreach campaigns:  The effectiveness of programs designed to reduce poverty among working poor families is lessened if eligible families and individuals do not know the benefits exist or how to apply for them.  Accordingly, the Center operates two outreach campaigns to help working poor families receive two key benefits for which they are eligible:  low-income tax credits (specifically, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit) and children’s health insurance through Medicaid or other state child health insurance programs.

  • More than 6,000 non-profit organizations and government agencies across the country participate in the Center’s EITC outreach campaign, the nation’s largest sustained private sector campaign to promote a public benefit.  Participants include governors, mayors, state and local agencies, United Ways, religious organizations, utility companies and other businesses, labor unions, day care centers, and community development corporations.

  • The Start Healthy, Stay Healthy campaign enlists a wide array of community-based organizations, health and human services providers, advocacy groups, program administrators, and others to identify uninsured children from working families who may be eligible for free or low-cost health insurance programs and to help them become enrolled.  The campaign also designs and promotes policy improvements to make children’s health insurance programs more accessible to eligible families.

Social insurance programs and pensions:  The Center evaluates Social Security reform proposals, evaluating their implications for the program’s basic social insurance character and long-term solvency, as well as their effects on the rest of the federal budget.  (Several prominent reform proposals would require the transfer of large amounts of general revenue to Social Security.)  We also examine ways to ensure long-term solvency in ways that strengthen rather than weaken Social Security for low-income and minority beneficiaries.

Our work on the unemployment insurance system includes analyzing the adequacy of existing unemployment benefits programs in helping low-income workers meet basic needs during temporary spells of unemployment.  We also design improvements to those programs.  This work intensifies during economic downturns.

In collaboration with the Brookings Institution, we evaluate pension reform proposals to determine their likely effect on pension coverage for low-income households.  Also, to help low-income families make high-return investments such as homeownership or a college education and to prepare for retirement, we promote asset building among these families.  This work includes promoting policy improvements targeted to families who build modest assets through Individual Development Accounts or retirement accounts such as 401(k)s.

Poverty and income trends:  The Center analyzes trends in poverty and income at both the national and state levels, including trends in income disparities.  For example, we publish periodic reports that provide state-by-state data on income disparities and state tax burdens on poor households.  We also examine the effectiveness of safety-net programs in reducing poverty.

What Makes the Center Unique

While numerous other non-profit organizations work in one or more of the policy areas listed above, the Center possesses a combination of strengths that is unique:

  • Because the Center has expertise in both fiscal policy and low-income program policy, it is able to help strengthen low-income programs while taking budget realities into account — and to help non-profit groups that focus on low-income programs participate effectively in budget debates.

  • Because of the Center’s in-depth knowledge of low-income program design, it is relied upon by federal agencies, members of Congress of both parties and their staffs, state government officials, and various national and grassroots non-profit organizations, for detailed, practical, politically feasible policy proposals.

  • Because the Center conducts substantial work at both the federal and state levels, it is able to identify the often-overlooked effects (both positive and negative) that policy choices at one level can have on the other level and to develop appropriate responses.

  • Because the Center works on a broad range of programs affecting low-income populations, it is able to identify complex interactions that can occur between programs and design ways to use those interactions to make programs more accessible to eligible individuals and families.

What Makes the Center Effective

In a 1998 Aspen Institute survey of members of Congress of both parties and Administration officials, the Center was identified as the single most influential non-profit organization in Washington on federal budget policy.  Of the six policy areas covered by the survey, the Center was the sole organization rated “one of the 10 most effective” in at least four areas: budget policy, family and welfare policy, health policy, and housing and community development.  The other two areas covered by the survey are areas in which we do not work.

Information dissemination:  One reason for the Center’s effectiveness is the speed with which we disseminate the results of our research and analysis.  Center reports are posted immediately and in their entirety to our website, which National Journal has rated as one of the best in the nation on federal budget issues, federal tax issues, and Social Security issues.  The Center’s website now averages more than a million “hits” each month.  We also operate email notification lists that instantly inform hundreds of reporters, policymakers, non-profits, and other interested individuals whenever a new analysis is posted.

Trainings and technical assistance: The Center’s effectiveness also derives in part from the trainings and technical assistance we provide to state-level non-profits to expand their capacity to conduct policy analysis on issues related to state fiscal issues, budget priorities, and low-income programs. (The International Budget Partnership provides similar assistance to non-profits in other countries.) We also assist policymakers and their staffs on fiscal issues and issues related to low-income program design.

What Others Say About the Center

"[The Center's] statistical work is absolutely impeccable; there is nothing at all like it on the right, or anywhere else. . . .  If you care about [fiscal issues], check CBPP's site regularly for updates."

Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist,
in a May 28, 2003 column on his website listing
websites that are "must reading for anyone interested in government policy."

"Among the alphabet soup of think tanks and partisan advocacy groups covering tax and budget issues, the CBPP has carved out a niche as being socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and academically rigorous."

 CQ Today,
July 11, 2003

"I have relied on many think tanks, universities [and] advocacy groups for information in my 20 years in journalism, and the Center is far and away the best.  The quality of the work is extraordinary."

Tom Moran, deputy editorial page editor,
Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, 2001

"[T]he Center ... has a reputation for not cooking the numbers. . . .  No conservative group can match the Center’s productivity."

National Journal,
December 8, 2001

"[A] humble but prolific Washington think tank known for its sharp analysis and media savvy. . . .  The [C]enter's quick and substantive analysis invariably gets a lot of play in the press and in congressional debates."

National Journal,
December 7, 2002

"The numbers come courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the research organization that for more than 20 years has established itself as the premier authority on budgetary issues that involve people around here.  It is usually referred to as liberal, which it is, but it is the premier authority because its record for scrupulous accuracy is unblemished and because the Center’s work is as carefully consumed by the government officials it watches as by the activists it serves."

Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe,
October 9, 2001

"[The Center's] experience — focusing on the production of rigorous, high-quality work that is organized around a commitment to low-income citizens — suggests that it is possible to exhibit both commitment and rigor."

Beryl Radin, Beyond Machiavelli: Policy Analysis Comes of Age,
Georgetown University Press, 2000