The Western Balkans with Chinese Characteristics

The Western Balkans with Chinese Characteristics. Center for Strategic & International Studies. Heather A. Conley, Jonathan E. Hillman, Matthew Melino. July 30, 2019

In 2012, China and 11 EU countries from Central and Southern Europe and 5 non-EU members from the Western Balkans met in Warsaw, Poland for the first time in a “16+1” format to deepen economic cooperation in the areas of infrastructure as well as information and green technological development. The occasion was marked by the signing of “China’s Twelve Measures for Promoting Friendly Cooperation with Central and Eastern European Countries” and the official launch of the 16+1. Seven years later in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the format has now grown to “17+1” with the inclusion of Greece. Nearly 40 bilateral deals were announced between China and partner countries, which included the opening of credit lines between the China Development Bank and Hungary worth €500 million, Croatia worth €300 million, Romania worth €100 million, Bulgaria worth €300 million, and Serbia worth €25 million.

It could be suggested that this region was in fact an early test case for the Chinese government’s 2013 announcement of its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which envisions land and maritime transportation corridors stretching across and around the Eurasian landmass to Europe. Certainly, there was a strong infrastructure demand signal emanating from the region, which grew frustrated when its needs for new roads, modern ports, and high-speed rail went unmet by Western investment. Having developed the unique, mixed EU and non-EU 16+1 structure, Beijing could claim to be helping to “bridge” the EU and non-EU divide. It also gained a high-profile vehicle to channel a portion of the BRI’s $1 trillion in promised infrastructure investment. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics. Congressional Research Service.  Jessica Tollestrup. Updated July 25, 2019

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program was enacted in 1975 as a federal-state program (Title IV-D of the Social Security Act). The primary purpose of this program was to reduce public expenditures for recipients of cash assistance by obtaining ongoing support from noncustodial parents that could be used to reimburse the state and federal governments for part of that assistance. (This purpose often is referred to as “welfare cost-recovery.”) Relatedly, the program also sought to strengthen families by securing financial support for children from their noncustodial parents on a consistent and continuing basis to enable some of those families to remain self-sufficient and off public assistance. Over the years, CSE has evolved into a multifaceted program. While welfare cost-recovery still remains an important function of the program, its other aspects include service delivery and promotion of self-sufficiency and parental responsibility. The CSE program has different rules for assistance families (e.g., those receiving cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; TANF) and nonassistance families.

[PDF format, 16 pages].

How high are Infrastructure Costs? Analyzing Interstate Construction Spending

How high are Infrastructure Costs? Analyzing Interstate Construction Spending. Brookings Institution. Leah Brooks and Zachary Liscow.  August 19, 2019

Although the United States spends over $400 billion per year on infrastructure, there is a consensus that infrastructure investment has been on the decline and with it the quality of U.S. infrastructure. Politicians across the ideological spectrum have responded with calls for increased spending on infrastructure to repair this infrastructure deficit. The issue of infrastructure costs is particularly important as calls for increased infrastructure spending are sometimes coupled with prescriptions for dealing with higher perceived costs. However, the scholarship on the cost of infrastructure is lacking. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 77 pages].

Helping Public Housing Residents Find Jobs and Build Careers

Helping Public Housing Residents Find Jobs and Build Careers: Evaluation Findings from New York City’s Jobs-Plus Expansion. Urban Institute. Josh Leopold et al. September 6, 2019

Since 2009, New York City has implemented the Jobs-Plus program to increase employment and earnings public housing residents. The program is modeled after a successful federal demonstration from the 1990s that combines employment services, financial incentives, and community supports to promote work. The Urban Institute evaluation of the program combined interviews and focus groups with staff and participants with analysis of data on Jobs-Plus participation, public housing residency, and quarterly earnings before and after implementation. We concluded that the program provided personal, culturally competent employment services and cultivate a network of employers interested in hiring Jobs-Plus participants. Among participants, Jobs-Plus increased employment by 12 percentage points and quarterly earnings by $497. Our evaluation found mixed evidence that the program slightly improved employment rates for residents of the targeted developments and found no evidence that it improved earnings. We attribute this lack of impact primarily to two factors. First, the Jobs-Plus providers might not have assisted a high enough proportion of residents to change overall trends within the developments. Second, our evaluation could not capture the program’s impact on the many participants who lived in the targeted developments but were not officially listed on the lease and were thus not included in our data. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 97 pages].

National Forest System Management: Overview, Appropriations, and Issues for Congress

National Forest System Management: Overview, Appropriations, and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service. Katie Hoover, Anne A. Riddle. Updated September 5, 2019 

The 193 million acres of the National Forest System (NFS) comprise 154 national forests, 20 national  grasslands, and several other federal land designations. Management of the NFS is one of the three principal responsibilities of the Forest Service (FS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Most NFS lands are concentrated in the western United States, although FS administers more federal land in the East than all other federal agencies combined. The Secretary of Agriculture has various authorities to acquire or dispose of NFS lands, although these are often constrained by geography or other factors. 

[PDF format, 28 pages].

Policies and Payoffs to Addressing America’s College Graduation Deficit

Policies and Payoffs to Addressing America’s College Graduation Deficit. Brookings Institution. Christopher Avery et al. September 5, 2019

Christopher Avery, Jessica Howell, Matea Pender, and Bruce Sacerdote, analyze state policies to increase four-year college completion rates, concluding that increased spending at all public colleges and targeted elimination of tuition and fees at four-year public colleges for income-eligible students are the most cost-effective options, while free community college is the least effective—finding it actually reduces four-year degree completion rates and provides the least benefit to low-income students. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 45 pages].

Fiscal Democracy in the States: How Much Spending is on Autopilot?

Fiscal Democracy in the States: How Much Spending is on Autopilot? Urban Institute. Tracy Gordon et al. July 31, 2019

Governors, lawmakers, and journalists often decry constitutional and statutory formulas, federal grant requirements, and court rulings they think excessively limit state budget decisions.

Some observers estimate as much as 70 percent of state spending is “on autopilot,” meaning these constraints are in place before proposals or negotiations begin.

But measuring predetermined state budget commitments is far from straightforward. The federal government explicitly defines “tax expenditures” and “mandatory spending” and reinforces these concepts through the annual budget process. In contrast, few states rigorously and transparently assess the long-term cost of tax breaks and spending programs that are either fixed in size or will grow automatically without policy changes.

In this report, the authors perform a first-of-its-kind analysis of how much spending was restricted or partially restricted in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Virginia from 2000 to 2015. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 149 pages].

Data Appendix [PDF format, 110 pages].

Human Rights in a Shifting Landscape: Recommendations for Congress

Human Rights in a Shifting Landscape: Recommendations for Congress. Center for Strategic & International Studies. Amy K. Lehr et al. September 9, 2019

Human Rights are part of the American DNA. Congress has long advocated for human rights to play an integral role in U.S. foreign policy, with significant success. However, rising authoritarianism and the gross human rights violations taking place around the world call for immediate and stronger U.S. leadership and Congressional action. To that end, the Human Rights Initiative of CSIS worked with CSIS scholars, who developed recommendations relevant to their expertise that identify how Congress can build on its past human rights leadership to meet today’s challenges. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 59 pages].

Federal Election Commission: Membership and Policymaking Quorum, In Brief

Federal Election Commission: Membership and Policymaking Quorum, In Brief. Congressional Research Service. R. Sam Garrett.  Updated September 5, 2019

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the nation’s civil campaign finance regulator. The agency ensures that campaign fundraising and spending is publicly reported; that those regulated by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and by commission regulations comply and have access to guidance; and that publicly financed presidential campaigns receive funding.  As of August 31, 2019, the Federal Election Commission is operating without a policymaking quorum. FECA requires that at least four of six commissioners agree to undertake many of the agency’s key policymaking duties. As of August 31, 2019, three of six commissioners remain in office, after the fourth remaining commissioner resigned. Also as of this writing, one commission nomination is pending in the Senate.  This CRS report briefly explains the kinds of actions that FECA precludes when a quorum is not possible because fewer than four FEC members are in office. This episode marks the second quorum loss in the agency’s history—the first occurred for six months in 2008—leaving the commission unable to hold hearings, issue rules, and enforce campaign finance law and regulation. The agency remains open for business with remaining commissioners and regular staff, but new policy decisions and enforcement actions cannot be advanced or finalized.

[PDF format, 11 pages].

Impact of Climate Risk on the Energy System: Examining the Financial, Security, and Technology Dimensions

Impact of Climate Risk on the Energy System: Examining the Financial, Security, and Technology Dimensions. Council on Foreign Relations.   Amy Myers Jaffe et al. September 10, 2019.

Climate change poses risks to energy security, financial markets, and national security. Energy companies and local, state, and federal governments need to better prepare to face these challenges. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 87 pages].