Policy Memo Guidelines

Cornell Fellows whose project involves public policy research and writing can benefit greatly from the guidance given by the Truman Scholarship Foundation for students nominated by their college to compete nationally for a scholarship that funds the last year of undergraduate and two years of post-graduate study in public policy related fields.  Sophomores doing public policy related fellowships in the summer before their junior year and juniors doing such fellowships in terms 1-3 are urged to contact Rob Sutherland in August-September at the beginning of their junior year.  See below the policy proposal tips from the Truman Scholarship website.

Select a topic that is:

  • In your field
    It should be a topic in the professional field you hope to enter. It should relate to the problem or need of society.
  • Controversial
    Substantial debate exists on what to do and there is some legitimacy to the opposite side of the position which you are taking.
  • Important
    The proposal focuses on a problem that has significance to the US government, to a substantial segment of the population,to your state, to the environment, or to an international community.
  • Not overwhelming
    It is "small" enough to be presented on one page. If it is too large to handle well, break off a small piece. For example: While the health care problem is too large, various elements such as AIDS risk reduction, dealing with a specific disease, or prenatal care for economically disadvantaged women could be discussed.
  • Interesting to you
    You care about the topic and would like to learn more about it.
  • Intellectually approachable to you
    You should be able to get a good understanding of the problem including a reasonable grasp of why the problem exists and has not been solved . . . and of the difficulties in implementing the solution you recommend.   The nature of the problem has been well-documented and statistical data and current references are available.   You can find current substantive references (books, scholarly journals) as well as regular press or weekly news magazines to help you make the case.
  • Tractable
    You can come up with a specific plan to present and to defend, especially one that represents a fresh approach.

Be sure to:
  • Address it to the governmental official who has the most authority to deal with this issue. If you write to the chair of a legislative committee, verify that his or her committee has the jurisdiction to do what you propose. Be careful about addressing it to the President. Generally, a cabinet officer or a chair of a Congressional committee will have more authority than the President.
  • Use statistical data to define the problem.   Choose your sources carefully.   Choose persuasive data to explain your position.   If you rely on data from the internet, be certain that it is credible. List only those sources that you used heavily. A laundry list of citations and footnotes will not be considered.
  • Make your recommendations specific, clear, and understandable.
    You wouldn't want the intended recipient to say, "So what exactly am I supposed to do?"
  • Handle obstacles fairly.   Don't just say not enough money or votes but capture briefly the legitimacy of the opposition.
  • Your policy proposal should be approximately 750 words, exclusive of citations.

The proposal below is a sample that meets all of the guidelines discussed above.

To:  Donna Shalala
Office Held:  Secretary, Department of Health and HumanServices
From:  [Insert Name]

Problem Statement
Health care in America is in crisis. 53 million Americans will lack health insurance by 2007 (1). The most at-risk segment of our population are children and protecting their health should be our country's first priority. Despite efforts to make health coverage more accessible, over 11 million children are still without health insurance, and nearly 3 million are in poor or only fair health (2). Past efforts by the federal government to increase health coverage to all Americans have been woefully inadequate. Nearly half of the beneficiaries of Medicaid in 1992 were children (3). In addition, studies have shown that three-fourths of uninsured Americans have full or part-time employment (4). By covering children who are uninsured, and by extending coverage to their families, we can decrease the number of uninsured individuals within the working classes.

Proposed Solution
Stronger measures must be undertaken to decrease these numbers. Any adequate response to America's health crisis will require time, effort, and energy, but the necessity in guaranteeing health coverage to all Americans, and especially to our youth, demands it. I propose three policy initiatives. First, expand the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Second, target individuals eligible for CHIP in their home states and enroll them in the program. Finally, expand CHIP to include the parents and families of the children enrolled in the program. CHIP matches states that cover children in families with up to 200% of poverty. By expanding CHIP to children up to 250% the level of poverty (approximately $41,000 for a family of four), we would immediately reach an additional one million children. Also of concern are the over two million uninsured children who live in households with incomes above 250% of poverty. By allowing these families to buy into CHIP, with a premium less costly than most private options, even more children would be insured. CHIP should actively target children enrolled in school lunch programs, who are often eligible to receive CHIP or Medicaid. In addition, the application process should be made more accessible and uniform across the country to ensure participation and enrollment, and should be made available not only in schools, but day care centers and clinics. Finally, most uninsured children (over 85%) come from families where the parents themselves are uninsured (5). By extending CHIP coverage to parents, many Americans would be provided with an affordable healthcare option. The expansion of CHIP to cover the over seven million uninsured parents whose children take advantage of the program would be an efficient, beneficial, and family friendly solution.

Major Obstacles/Implementation Challenges
Opponents of this plan may argue that the resource-intensive nature of this program is beyond the scope of the federal government's duties or that it may cost too much. Upon examining the plan, however, one will note that most of the burden is distributed between federal and state institutions [Note, too, that the Federal government would increase the CHIP allotment only as states expand eligibility.] Given the cost splitting of this program, no one institution will be forced to bear an excessive burden. The supplemental premiums brought by individuals will further offset costs of the program. Given this nation's recent unprecedented peacetime economic growth, there would be no better time to initiate such change. If we wait, and the economy worsens, this country could be faced with a burden of upwards of 60 million uninsured Americans (6). Quite simply, now is the best time to act to both insure the health of our country and to secure our future growth.

References, Footnotes, and Exhibits
1. Kent, Christina. "Health Insurers Would Focus on Rights of the Noncovered." Physician's Weekly.Vol. XVI, No. 3. January 18, 1999.
2. "Poor, Minority Children Lack Health Insurance." Reuters Online: http://www.incomeonline.com/content/news/NEWS/CHILDREN.html.
3. Lazarus, Wendy. "Audit of Activities and Opportunities to Extend Health Insurance Coverage to Uninsured Children." Tides Foundation. http://www.rwjf.org/health/fulltext/o27800e.html.
4. Stenson, Jacqueline."ACP Renews Call for Universal Health-Care Coverage." Medical Tribune. May 23, 1996.
5. Ibid.
6. Kent.

Other sources consulted:
"All Children Need Health Care." National Network for Child Care. http://www.nncc.org/Release/child.health.cover.html.
"Children's Health Insurance." National Conference of State Legislatures. http://www.ncsl.org/programshealth/childcht.html
"What Is Title XXI?" Healthy Kids Online: http://www.healthykids.org/html/com_titlexxi.html.
"The Child Health Insurance Program." Families USA.