Rep. Ryan unveils plan to aid the poor

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WASHINGTON — House Budget Committee chairman Paul D. Ryan on Thursday outlined a plan to combat poverty that would consolidate a dozen programs into a single “Opportunity Grant” that largely shifts anti-poverty efforts from the federal government to the states.

Mr. Ryan, R-Wis., a leading voice among Republicans on fiscal matters, said in an American Enterprise Institute speech that the federal government represents the “rear guard — it protects the supply lines.” He continued: “The people on the ground, they’re the vanguard. They fight poverty on the front lines.”

Mr. Ryan’s proposal gives new policy backbone to Republicans’ recent promises to address poverty and is part of a broader political strategy to increase the party’s appeal. This has given Mr. Ryan, the GOP nominee for vice president in 2012, the opportunity to show that he and his party are as concerned about the poor as Democrats are, while offering a drastically different approach to addressing poverty.

His plan includes a mix of both traditional Republican tax proposals to expand the earned-income tax credit and reduce regulations and some new commitments to reducing criminal sentencing and recidivism.

Other Republicans, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who, like Mr. Ryan, are considering a 2016 presidential run, have echoed his call to broaden their party’s appeal. Mr. Rubio spoke Wednesday about broken families at Catholic University of America in Washington, and Mr. Paul today will address the National Urban League in Cincinnati.

Mr. Ryan tumbled somewhat awkwardly into the antipoverty discussion this year when he said a “tailspin of culture in our inner cities” perpetuated poverty, a comment that Democrats and some African-American groups called racist. But since then, he has appeared to try to make amends, traveling the nation to listen to Americans in poorer cities as he prepared to unveil this proposal.

The Opportunity Grants resemble block grants to individual states, which would have autonomy to spend on whatever anti-poverty programs they desire, as long as Washington approves the plan. The federal government currently spends about $800 billion on social welfare programs such as food stamps and housing assistance. Mr. Ryan said total spending would remain the same, and that his plan would not add to the deficit.

Mr. Ryan’s previous broad policy introductions outlined in his budgets have focused on deficit reduction, but he emphasized that this anti-poverty proposal focused on overhauling, not curtailing, the safety net. “It is important to note that this is not a budget-cutting exercise — this is a reform proposal,” the policy discussion draft said. “This proposal seeks to create the space and flexibility necessary for local, state and federal government to add value without making judgments about the right level of spending.”

If a state opted into the pilot program, it would have low-income residents meet with case managers, who would create an “opportunity plan” offering both financial advice and coordinating the provisions of the several different programs they need. The residents would sign contracts with these case managers that would offer incentives to reach financial security and sanctions if they do not. A neutral agency would evaluate each provider’s success at moving poor Americans out of poverty.

“The point is, don’t just pass a law and hope for the best,” Mr. Ryan said. “If you’ve got an idea, let’s try it. Test it. See what works.”

The proposal also gives childless workers the chance to claim a larger earned-income tax credit, which grants a subsidy to low-income families with a working parent. The credit was greatly expanded during the 1990s, when Republicans similarly homed in on poverty as a policy priority, but it recently fell out of favor with many conservatives. Mr. Ryan’s proposal recommends doubling the maximum tax credit for the childless poor and lowering the age of eligibility to 21 from 25.

President Barack Obama and House Democrats have also signaled support for an expansion of the credit, and Democrats applauded Mr. Ryan’s plans to tackle recidivism. House Democrats were, in general, not so critical of the proposal, arguing instead that the messenger made the message far less credible.

“How do you seriously say you care about antipoverty when you’ve spent the last several years cutting the safety net?” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said in a conference call with reporters. “Our skepticism comes from the fact that the person who is saying all these nice things has voted in a way that has made life for poor people more difficult.”

Barack Obama - U.S. Republican Party - Marco Rubio - James McGovern - Paul Ryan - Rand Paul

First Published July 24, 2014 4:00 PM


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