By Lecia Imbery
Earlier today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) appeared at an event hosted by AEI to unveil his new plan to fight poverty, “Expanding Opportunity in America.” Rep. Ryan’s plan categorizes his reforms into six different areas, a few of which we’ll discuss here.
So-called “Opportunity Grants”: First, Rep. Ryan’s plan would create an “Opportunity Grant,” basically a block grant that would consolidate up to 11 different federal programs (including SNAP, child care, housing assistance, LIHEAP, and others) into one funding stream for states, similar to the universal credit system put in place in the UK. However, there are many reasons why this type of system won’t work in the US, not the least of which is that it will result in benefit cuts to poor Americans. CHN has long opposed block grants. For more information on the UK system, see this piece from folks at the Center for American Progress, CLASP, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and for more information on block grants, see this piecefrom the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress’ reaction to today’s activities here.
Rep. Ryan pointed to a need for broad state flexibility with federal finding, similar to the welfare reform of 1996. However, analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the 1996 law’s results were mixed and that, especially for the most vulnerable families and children, there are serious downsides to following this path – in fact, deep poverty among children worsened in the first decade after the law was enacted. CLASP also has a great piece with evidence from states that block grants aren’t necessary to achieve the goal of more streamlined and integrated program administration.
He also said we need customized and personalized aid for each person in the form of case management and service provision. But if his plan is budget neutral, and he seems to call for an increased investment in case management, where is that money coming from?
In addition, we can’t separate the fact that the Ryan budget would drastically slash programsthat would help the poor. While he promoted programs like those run by Catholic Charities, he seemed to forget that those programs are funded substantially with federal dollars.
The Earned Income Tax Credit: We strongly support Rep. Ryan’s proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers, especially for childless adults. The EITC provides a very important benefit for workers caring for children. However, it is extremely limited for other low-wage workers. For more information on why this tax credit is so important, see this piece from CBPP.
Reducing Incarceration and Recidivism: We also favor Ryan’s desire to reduce imprisonment and recidivism, and we support increasing resources for those who leave the prison system to help them reintegrate into society. We look forward to Rep. Ryan working to get the House to vote on bills that address these issues, and we would again hope that these resources aren’t coming at the cost of other programs for the poor.
In addition to some of the other Head Smackers we noted in Rep. Ryan’s plan, it’s also ironic that Rep. Ryan spoke on the 5 year anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was increased, though there was no mention of that in his speech, and that he’s speaking on the day before the House is scheduled to vote on a bad Child Tax Credit bill that will hurt families in poverty.
We’ll have more responses and share more resources related to Rep. Ryan’s speech in the coming days and weeks, and we encourage you to share your thoughts with us on his plan in the comments below. We also encourage you to email your thoughts to Rep. Ryan at the email he has set up to receive comments related to this –email@example.com. If you reach out to him, we invite you to firstname.lastname@example.org on the email.