California Policy Lab receives $2M National Science Foundation grant

Evan White and Jesse Rothstein
From left to right: Evan White, Jesse Rothstein

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In an effort to promote research in policy and social science, the National Science Foundation, or NSF, awarded the California Policy Lab, or CPL, a four-year, $2 million grant.

This is the first grant CPL has received from NSF, and it will help CPL’s Linkage Initiative for Policy Evaluation and Research, or LIPER, project build elaborate datasets to further examine challenges faced by society at large, according to Evan White, CPL’s executive director at UC Berkeley. These challenges include health, homelessness and criminal justice.

“I was thrilled,” said Jesse Rothstein, LIPER lead researcher and campus public policy and economics professor, in an email. “Applying for a NSF grant is not a small undertaking and it felt gratifying to see that the time we invested in LIPER and conveying our plans in a thoughtful and robust application paid off.”

While government agencies collect administrative data, they are unable to analyze their findings on their own, according to White, who added that the lab works with government partners to fill any gaps by linking relevant data.

By filling these gaps, CPL can recommend policy solutions, including bolstering outreach for specific programs, simplifying eligibility for key services and improving program management, White said.

For Hilary Hoynes, LIPER lead researcher and campus public policy and economics professor, the grant money can be used to address poverty and inequality.

Hoynes’ research focuses on social safety nets and social safety programs, including CalFresh, which provides food stamps to those in need, and the California Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a form of credit given to lower-income California residents.

Compared to surveys, which have a variety of shortcomings, linking administrative data will provide a more complete picture of different challenges society faces, according to Rothstein, who also studies social safety nets.

“LIPER has the potential to unlock central new insights about the causes and consequences of poverty and the extent to which government interventions help households succeed,” Rothstein said in the email. “We’re excited to get to work on it.”

In addition to furthering research on social safety nets, the grant will prove beneficial in addressing many current and pressing issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and structural racism, Hoynes said in an email.

Beyond aiding her individual research, Hoynes said in the email, the process of linking California administrative data will push the state toward “more informed and evidence based policy,” which will also benefit local governments.

“A key part of the project is that the datasets we will build with this grant will be available to researchers throughout UC Berkeley and indeed throughout the University of California,” Rothstein said in the email. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what my brilliant colleagues learn with them!”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.