UPDATED 7/30/2014: Republicans care about poor people! Yes, they do, and to prove it, Paul Ryan (R-WI) is proposing a poverty plan. His plan comes just in time for the 2014 election campaign, and maybe also in time to feature in a 2016 presidential bid. Unlike FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s War on Poverty, however, this is a plan that will make more people poorer. Paul Ryan loves poor people so much that he wants more of them!
Ryan’s plan calls for increasing the Earned Income Tax credit, eliminating most federal poverty programs. Instead of food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF or “welfare”), low income heating assistance, and public housing, and several more programs, he will give block grants to the states, so they can do whatever they choose to help poor people. Head Start and child care assistance programs would also be eliminated/rolled into the block grant.
Ryan is calling these “Opportunity Grants,” and saying that states will have to use them for poor people, with individual plans tailored to each person rather than programs like food stamps or housing assistance. Sounds good in theory, but doing it right would take a whole lot more money and caseworkers than there are in the current programs combined. Writing in Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer explains:
“Consider, as a hypothetical, the food stamp program, which Ryan thinks should require people to work as a condition of receiving the benefit (ignoring, for the moment, that nearly 60 percent of working-age adults getting food stamps already work). More than 40 million Americans get food stamps. Providing all them with a hand-holding caseworker with whom, under Ryan’s plan, they’d draft long-term plans and contracts outlining their responsibilities and goals before they’d be allowed to eat, would require a fleet of roughly more than 700,000 social workers, assuming a reasonable caseload of about 55 clients per caseworker. Social workers don’t make much money, with a median salary of about $44,000 a year. Even so, 700,000 of them would cost more than $30 billion a year, not including benefits. That’s nearly 40 percent of what the country currently spends on food stamps and nearly twice the entire federal welfare budget. By comparison, the current food stamp program delivers 92 percent of its funding directly to people in need; only 5 percent goes to administrative costs.”
Ryan’s plan has some good ideas — such as increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit — but the biggest part of the plan is the block grant, and that’s a very bad idea. Opportunity Grants assume that states will buy in to the program, and actually work to help poor people. The Affordable Care Act offered a test of this premise, offering states an opportunity to help poor people with Medicaid expansion. Remember how well that worked?
Block grants to states to help poor people flat out don’t work. As David Firestone explained succinctly in the New York Times last week:
“Putting programs like food stamps into a block grant means they could not be expanded on a national basis during economic emergencies, when unemployment or poverty soars. If a state were to have a budget crisis, perhaps due to tax cuts, social spending would be the first to go.
“The broader problem is the sharp division between the states … The proponents of these consolidation ideas know that while blue states would shoulder their responsibilities and protect their poorest residents, many red states would not. If Washington were not in the anti-poverty business, Republicans would have an opportunity to reduce spending on social programs in about half the country.”
That’s it in a nutshell: Republican poverty programs will increase the number of poor people and to make already-poor people even worse off.
Oh – one more thing: Ryan’s plan privatizes anti-poverty programs.
First, each state will approve a list of certified providers that are held accountable for providing quality service and achieving results (such as moving people to work, out of poverty, and off of assistance).
• Next, a person will select a provider, and the provider will conduct a comprehensive assessment of that person’s needs, abilities, and circumstances.
Yep — privatization: the Republican answer to everything.
Updated 7/30/2014 to add information on privatization.