Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, March 7, 2011

As fiscal analyst, Cummings appreciates applicability of public affairs curriculum


Grant Cummings works for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Grant Cummings

Students present 9 workshop reports to local, state, international clients

From suggesting ways to improve food safety to evaluating countries that receive U.S. aid, policy analysis and recommendations by La Follette School students are now on the desks of policymakers across Wisconsin and around the world. Read more

The practicality of the La Follette School program has stood Grant Cummings in good stead.

In his position as an analyst with the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Cummings finds he has used something from nearly every course he took at La Follette, even though he has been on the job for less than a year.

"Many course projects push students to use real agencies as their subject matter, which I think is invaluable," says the 2010 graduate, who earned a master's degree in public affairs. "The more you can meet with people working in your field and analyze real problems, the more relevant your experience will be to yourself and future employers."

Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysts are the staff for the Joint Committee on Finance, which consists of members of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. "We answer questions from legislators," Cummings says. "I analyze policy alternatives, write memos and think critically about technical issues on a daily basis," he says. "My coursework at La Follette really helped me to think critically about very complex issues and communicate them in a way that will make sense to a general audience."

Assigned to long-term care programs administered under Wisconsin's Medicaid program, Cummings presented a memo to the Joint Committee on Finance on Family Care, a Wisconsin Department of Health Services program that helps older adults and people with developmental or physical disabilities with daily living and health care. In the memo and in his testimony to the committee, Cummings outlined three years of cost estimates and the effect expansion, or denial of expansion, would have on people in affected counties.

Cummings gained in-depth knowledge about Family Care through the La Follette School's public affairs workshop. He was part of a team that compared Family Care to another DHS program, IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) for DHS. "When the workshop project started, I knew nothing about long-term care in Wisconsin, let alone how it was administered," Cummings says. "By the end, I learned more than I ever knew about data management, self-directed long-term care in Wisconsin, how state health-care programs are administered, and what it is like to work in state government."

"The workshop was a very rich experience," Cummings adds. "The report was very technical, required a lot of program knowledge and provided a great opportunity to work closely with program staff from DHS."

He continues to collaborate with DHS staff as part of his job informing members of the Legislature about long-term care. "I work with DHS to determine how much a program is expected to cost, what the effect of any proposed policy changes would be, and answer any questions legislators might ask the Fiscal Bureau about the program," he says.

A project assistantship with professor Carolyn Heinrich during his second year at La Follette also exposed Cummings to state health policies, specifically how they affect substance abuse treatment centers' adoption of pharmaceutical therapies to treat addiction.

"I researched state policies related to substance abuse and treatment. I did a great deal of coding, data analysis, and data organization in Microsoft Excel," Cummings says. "The project gave me more familiarity with state and federal health programs as a whole and helped me develop techniques for researching state policies."

Cummings is in the midst of his first budget season at LFB, the agency's busiest time as legislators ask questions about the governor's budget that is announced at the start of every odd-numbered year. "We summarize the governor's budget, write budget impact papers on significant elements in the budget and summarize the actions of the legislature," he says. "All year round, but especially during the budget season, we do our own analysis to project expenditures and revenues for state programs and policies."

How all these elements play out is important in every community, Cummings says. During his senior year at the University of Notre Dame, he taught violence prevention at the Robinson Community Learning Center. "The center's work amidst the city's larger socioeconomic issues solidified my interest in working on the big issues facing my community," he says.

He and his wife moved to Pittsburgh so she could attend graduate school in social work. He worked as a research assistant for a company that contracted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Then it was his turn to earn a master's degree, and they came to Madison. "I was pretty sure that I enjoyed policy analysis when I started, and, after a couple months at La Follette, I knew I was right," Cummings says. "More than anything, I wanted to make sure I would have a career I enjoy and still contribute to society."

Last modified on Friday, November 14, 2014