Representative Paul Ryan unveiled his anti-poverty plan Thursday in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan and other lawmakers have spent much of 2014 discussing ways to “restructure poverty programs.” Ryan states that he would “prefer to measure success by the numbers of people climbing out of poverty and staying out, rather than by how many programs are created and how many dollars are spent.” He sees the current federal programs as ineffective and would like to move the resources for the war on poverty out of the federal domain to the states.
Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan focuses on five key areas: consolidation, regulation, incarceration, education, and tax credits. He and other lawmakers believe that the myriad of programs that exist right now are reactive rather than proactive, treating the symptoms of poverty rather than “really helping people get their lives back on track.”
The consolidation portion of Ryan’s proposal, called the Opportunity Grant, combines at least 11 federal programs into a single funding entity that is provided to the states. As Ryan puts it, “state and local organizations are the ones who are and should be on the front lines in the war on poverty. He would prefer to see the federal government’s role become one of approving state programs and entities to distribute aid, with the ability for the poor to make their own choice about which certified provider they prefer.
Under the proposed Opportunity Grant, charities, community groups and for-profit firms can all compete for the federal money to administer programs such as food stamps and housing. Ryan, and many other conservative politicians believe that a local-level program will provide more hands-on attention for aid recipients and encourage states to “get more skin in the game” when it comes to the war on poverty.
Paul Ryan also believes government regulation, at every level, hinders rather than helps low-income Americans. Ryan would like to make it easier for low-income workers to earn income and have access to better paying jobs. He believes that creating an “opportunity plan” with a local case worker will allow a more effective use of money to occur. For example, in the case of a single mother receiving a “cookie-cutter aid package,” she could instead target her money to areas like childcare or transportation costs where she may need aid more. Additionally, Ryan proposes signing a contract and having benchmarks for goals, allowing aid recipients to earn bonuses by exceeding expectations. Conversely, there would be a reduction in aid if the opportunity goals were not met and a time limit on assistance. Cutting the amount of government red tape required to start a business is also a key component of this portion of Ryan’s plan.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been in discussion about incarceration and how to rewrite the existing laws to ease sentences for non-violent offenders. Ryan is in agreement with Senator Rand Paul and Democrat Senator, Cory Booker, that imprisoning low-income citizens who are convicted of non-violent drug-related crime can make it more difficult for these Americans to re-enter society and find employment, leading to a continued cycle of poverty.
Focal to Ryan’s anti-poverty plan is a reform in education. Currently the federal government is very involved and Ryan would like to see increased involvement at the local level, opening the path to better education via voucher programs that would allow students to leave failing schools for more highly rated charter or private schools.
As far as the earned income tax credit (EITC), many politicians have ideas about this and Ryan has said that “both President Obama’s and Senator Rubio’s ideas have merit.” On the one hand, he agrees with Obama’s idea of increasing the EITC for single workers. Ryan wants to lower the recipient age from 25 to 21. On the other hand, Ryan would like to rewrite the laws to prevent illegal immigrants from claiming the child tax credit. Additional cuts would include deleting the energy subsidies that are currently given.
Paul Ryan’s past budgets have stirred a lot of controversy, both in congressional discussion and in the media when he was a vice-presidential candidate under Mitt Romney. Ryan calls this and prior budget plans “a starting point in the conversation,” saying “he is looking forward to discussing every aspect of his anti-poverty plan.”
By Jenny Hansen