Last week House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released a 73-page anti-poverty plan called "Expanding Opportunity in America"
which Slate's Reihan Salam wrote
"includes some of the most thought-provoking ideas to have ever come from the halls of Congress." The plan's biggest feature would create an "Opportunity Grant" that would lump money for food stamps, housing assistance and other anti-poverty programs into a block grant to the states.
Based on some of his earlier budget proposals, liberals are wary, but the plan also includes provisions to expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit, reworking minimum-sentencing requirements for those convicted of nonviolent crimes to make it easier for them to find work, and would not cut any
antipoverty spending. On ABC's This Week
, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich was actually effusive in his praise of Ryan's plan:
Ryan's previous statements regarding the poor haven't been received so kindly, and why would they have been? He's previously said that the safety net
is a “hammock” that lulls people into “dependency and complacency.”
On NBC's Meet The Press
on Sunday, Ryan was asked by moderator David Gregory that based on such comments, "it doesn't sound like there's a lot of sympathy for people you think need the government's help. What you seem to be saying is that people have a problem with their own dependency here that government is only furthering."
Ryan said that was far from his intent:
"We want to get at the root cause of the poverty to get people out of poverty. And I would argue that that is the best way to go forward.
And that's what we're proposing here, which is have benefits that are customized to either person's problems, because poverty is very complicated. And not just keep them where they are, but have them get to where they want to be. And that is what is the trust of these proposals. The federal government's approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty.
In many ways, it has disincentivized people to going to work. In some cases, you lose more in benefits if you go to work. So people don't go to work because of the federal disincentives that do so. So we need to reemphasize getting people up and on their lives and helping them give them the tools to do that. That's the point.
Able-bodied people should go to work and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential. That for me is a far better system to get people out of poverty long term than to just spend more hardworking taxpayer dollars on a program that is not getting the results that people deserve."
Last week Ryan denied that his "opportunity grants" are simply block grant to the states, which Democrats disdain. He said “This isn’t really exactly a block grant where you cut a check to the state and call it a day." The Washington Post
quoted him as saying that the money would have to be spent on the poor, and would not be trimmed. “It would be budget neutral, and not a penny less.”
But many anti-poverty leaders are not impressed. On the website talkpoverty.com
, a number interviewed about the proposal absolutely trash it.
Elissa Boteach, the Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program and Half in Ten Education Fund at the Center for American Progress said
"Rep. Ryan is claiming that his plan is completely deficit neutral, and states would not lose any money.
Yet, in a cautionary tale, calls for elimination of SSBG have been supported by none other than Rep. Ryan, who out of the other side of his mouth is proposing an eerily similar idea: to consolidate, in the name of flexibility, major funding streams that currently help low-income families. In fact, Rep. Ryan proposes eliminating the Social Service Block Grant altogether to pay for his proposed EITC expansion for childless workers. In an ironic twist that he seems to miss, he claims that SSBG is “ineffective.”
Thank you, Paul Ryan, for illustrating more clearly than anyone else possibly could why your proposal is so dangerous."