Reframing newsletter

Media’s Response to 2021 Budget Reinforces Need for Reframing

February 20, 2020

Earlier this month, the Administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 budget with expected funding cuts to several human service programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, as well as eliminating funding for others such as after school programs and the Community Development Block Grant. And expectedly, media headlines followed citing decreased funding for “safety net” programs.

We know terms like “safety net” have partisan associations, and can also conjure up “politics as usual” and government is inept and corrupt mindsets that can activate fatalism — or a misperception that challenges are too big, complex and entrenched to address or solve — and thus shut down conversations.

So, instead of following the media’s lead and reverting to entrenched communication habits when faced with budget challenges, remember to introduce a new dialogue around the importance of human services with the Building Well-Being Narrative’s value of human potential, explanatory construction metaphor and life cycle examples. We’ve talked before about how to deflect unproductive budget frames and create productive discussions about human services, so please revisit those recommendations when crafting responses to federal and state budget proposals.

As we noted in that article, the FrameWorks Institute casts “public budgets and taxes as the tools society needs in order to meet its goals for the future.” So one tip we shared is to define public budgets as forward-thinking, cost-effective planning tools that address long-term needs, prevent expensive problems before they occur, and require investments over time, using past and present taxes.

Nat Kendall-Taylor and Nicky Hawkins of the FrameWorks Institute offer some specific, helpful guidance to advocate for prevention programs, as many human service programs are, in “Six Ways to Boost Public Support for Prevention-Based Policy.” They identify “unconscious cognitive responses” — such as the “normalcy bias” or the assumption that conditions will remain the same — and “widely shared cultural beliefs” — including fatalism — that undermine public support for policies that prevent social problems.

The 2019 Stanford Social Innovation Review article provides the following tips to overcome these obstacles to furthering prevention programs:

  • Show how policy change now affects results later so people don’t discount future progress.
  • Cue up “legacy thinking” or the idea that the public is bequeathing benefits to the next generations to move fixation solely from the present.
  • Advance how the proposed solution addresses the challenge to avoid a misperception that the problem is too big to fix.
  • Explain how data support your case to prevent misunderstandings of statistics.
  • Demonstrate how context affects the issue so the public doesn’t default to individualism, or the idea that people are responsible for their situations, which makes policy solutions seem moot.
  • Equate social investments with benefits that accrue later to us all to preempt the notion that funding should yield quick results and only helps others.

We hope you’ll find these recommendations useful as you respond to the federal and state budget proposals.

SPOTLIGHT: Let the National Reframing Initiative Team Help You!

We know the Building Well-Being Narrative and other reframing strategies can be challenging to implement on your own. That’s why we produced the online Implementation Guide. But sometimes you need a more personalized, hands-on approach. That’s why we have developed a suite of offerings to help the human service sector and our allies successfully and sustainably implement the FrameWorks Institute’s research-based communications strategies. Options include introductory keynotes, presentations and webinars, as well as interactive workshops and customized consultations. Please take a look at our offerings and contact Bridget Gavaghan, National Reframing Initiative Director, for more information.