M-RCBG Research Fellow-Led Study Group: Robert Greenstein

 Robert Greenstein, the founder and former head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who has been a leader in efforts to expand and defend US social programs for the past five decades, will lead a series of three study groups exploring these issues.  Attendance at any or all of these sessions is open to anyone interested.

This series is co-sponsored by the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.

1.    Defending and Expanding US Safety-Net Programs: What Programs Have Been Expanded in Recent Decades, What’s Been Cut, and What Are the Effects on Poverty?
Wednesday, March 8, 4:15-5:45pm,  Belfer L-1 Weil Town Hall

This session will look at changes in the US social safety net over the past 40-50 years, including both program expansions and program cutbacks. A key focus will be whether the common assumption that universal programs greatly outperform programs targeted by income is supported by what has occurred in the political process. Other key topics will include impacts that program expansions and cuts have had on poverty, including racial disparities, and targeted and universal programs’ effectiveness in reaching their target populations.

2.    Lessons for Charting Future Social Program Expansions: What Factors Help Explain Why Some Programs Have Been Greatly Enlarged While Others Have Been Sharply Cut Back? 
Thursday March 23, 4:15-5:45pm,  Belfer L-4 Conference Room  

Based on the experience of the past 40-50 years, this session will delve into key factors associated with whether social programs do well politically and expand over time or fare poorly and get cut back. We will discuss such factors as: whether a targeted program is targeted narrowly to people below the poverty line or reaches significantly above that on the income scale; different trajectories of cash versus in-kind programs; the role of work and whether a program requires a work record; which population groups a program serves; efforts to use the tax code as a mechanism for delivering income support; and the important effects of how federal and state roles are defined for a program, especially with respect to which level of government provides a program’s financing or sets a program’s rules.

3.    Where To Go From Here in Seeking Stronger Income Support and Poverty Reduction: Universal Basic Income, A Permanent, Substantially Expanded Child Tax Credit, Other Measures Such as More Robust Rental Assistance?
Wednesday, March 29, 4:15-5:45pm,  Ofer-401
This study group session will focus on what are the most promising programmatic strategies to pursue for the years ahead if the goal is to successfully enact and secure substantial and enduring improvements in the US social safety net -- especially more robust income support -- that can materially reduce poverty and hardship and improve well-being for large numbers of people.

4.    The Child Tax Credit in a Polarized Congress: A Strategic Discussion of How to Design and Pursue CTC Expansion This Year
Wednesday, April 5, 4:15-5:45pm, Belfer L-4 Conference Room

Robert Greenstein, a Research Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and an architect of some past Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit expansions, will lead a discussion of the potential for a CTC deal later this year, how CTC proponents can approach it strategically, and the options and hard choices they will face.

5.    Reliable Analysis or Serious Distortion? Assessing the Starkly Opposing Claims on US Poverty in Matthew Desmond’s and Phil Gramm’s New Books
Thursday, April 20. 4:14-5:45, R-229 (Carr Conference Room)

Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America, now #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, contends that poverty has not declined at all in the US in recent decades.  Former Senator Phil Gramm’s The Myth of American Inequality claims we have nearly eliminated poverty.  This study group will examine the reliability of these and other opposing claims made in these books, review the evidence, and assess how the books use -- or misuse -- data and research.

These study groups / discussions are open to all. Registration is not necessary.

M-RCBG welcomes individuals with disabilities to participate in its programs. To request accommodations or ask questions about access provided, please email: mrcbg@hks.harvard.edu

Robert Greenstein head shot

Robert Greenstein, founder of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and its president from 1981 through 2020, is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is part of Brookings’ Economic Studies team and is affiliated with The Hamilton Project.  He has written extensively and advised U.S. policymakers on federal budget issues, poverty and inequality, an array of social programs, and aspects of tax and health policy.  Prior to founding CBPP, Greenstein served under President Carter as Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he directed the agency responsible for the federal anti-hunger programs and helped design the landmark Food Stamp Act of 1977, often considered the most significant anti-poverty advance of the Carter years.  President Clinton appointed him in 1994 to serve on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform, and in 2008, he headed the federal budget policy component of the transition team for President Obama.  He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1996; in 2002, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and in 2010, he received the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which cited him as a “champion of evidence-based policy whose work at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is respected on both sides of the aisle.”  He also received the Heinz Award for Public Policy in 2008 for his work to “improve the economic outlook of many of America’s poorer citizens.”  Vox examined his career and impact in a recent (Nov. 2022) profile, “How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four decades” (https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/23383703/robert-greenstein-center-budget-policy-priorities), while The New Republic listed him in 2011 as one of Washington’s 25 “most powerful, least famous people.”  A graduate of Harvard College, he has honorary doctorates from Tufts University, Occidental College, and Haverford College.