Budget Debate: Preserving Innovation Funding for the Social Sector

Over the next few weeks Congress will be debating funding limits for federal programs for this current federal fiscal year. Lots of factors will be weighed when determining funding levels for both the defense and non-defense sectors and across programs such as health, education, and housing. If Congress is serious about being more outcomes-based and evidence-driven in how it makes funding decisions, one of the criteria they should use during this debate is whether a program is actually delivering results and spurring innovation.

One of those programs whose fate is being decided over the next few weeks is the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). Unfortunately in earlier Congressional debates, SIF was completely defunded. This program, along with the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, was the focus of a recent Hill briefing that America Forward partnered on with Results for America. The briefing focused on the importance of innovation funds such as SIF and i3 in advancing the use of evidence and evaluation to fund innovative solutions in the social services sector.

The Social Innovation Fund is an innovative program that awards grants to and works with existing grant-making institutions to direct resources to innovative community-based nonprofit organizations. The purpose of the SIF is to improve the lives of people in low-income communities by increasing the impact and scale of these innovative community-based organizations and approaches in the areas of youth development, economic opportunity, and healthy futures. In addition to growing promising community-based solutions, SIF funding is also used to test Pay for Success—a new approach for government to fund proven community-based solutions.

The significant emphasis on using evidence of program impact, a funding model that utilizes public funding to leverage private dollars, and the focus on innovative community-based solutions are elements that make SIF a unique federal program and one that has realized significant results in only a few years. Namely, through these grants upwards of half a million individuals have been served in low-income communities across the country. And the evaluations of these SIF programs, that have been completed to date, have found positive effects in the areas of workforce training, employment services, personal (income) savings, reading education, and childhood health. 

REDF, an America Forward Coalition member, through its SIF award provides funding to eight subgrantees that operate social enterprises that hire and provide supportive services to people who face barriers to work. A quasi-experimental impact study of one of the subgrantees compared individuals who were hired to those who applied but were not hired. The study found that after one year, although both groups experienced substantial employment gains because both received supportive services, those that were hired were more likely to be employed after one year. Additionally, a cost-benefit analysis of the social enterprises indicates a positive return on investment to society and the generation of taxpayer savings greater than the investment itself.

America Forward Coalition members Third Sector Capital Partners, Institute for Child Success, and Corporation for Supportive Housing are supporting upwards of 20 states, cities, and private organizations through SIF Pay for Success grants. These organizations are working to strengthen the pipeline of governments and organizations that are prepared to engage in Pay for Success, are assessing the potential of Pay for Success in new social areas and in diverse communities, and are helping to grow and sustain effective solutions to community challenges.

At America Forward, we believe that innovation and evidence are needed in order to more effectively address our country’s most pressing social problems. It is an unfortunate reality that SIF and other innovation funds that provide the resources to scale innovative solutions and evaluate programs are at risk of being cut or eliminated altogether. We urge Congress to seriously consider the current and potential impact of the SIF before prematurely defunding it.

The Corporation for National and Community Service will be hosting a Congressional Briefing on the Social Innovation Fund and its impact on youth across the country on Tuesday, November 17th from 1-2 in the Capitol Visitor’s Center SVC 201. RSVP to Megan Blanco at if interested in attending.

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