Paul Ryan Proposes Major Reforms to Safety Net Programs

Reforms would give states more authority in assigning funds
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, (R., Wis.) / AP

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, (R., Wis.) / AP

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) proposed major reform to federal safety net programs at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday.

Republican House Budget Committee members also released on Thursday Expanding Opportunity in America, a draft of a hefty report detailing the proposal’s intricacies.

Ryan touted his proposal of the Opportunity Grant, which would consolidate funding of up to 11 federal antipoverty programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Section 8 programs, among others, into one and allow states to determine how to spend that money.

The reformed funding would be budget neutral, the report says, meaning states would receive the same amount of funding as before.

Ryan said the Opportunity Grant would allow states to determine the best method of providing assistance themselves by assigning funds where they see fit.

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

States willing to participate would submit a plan to the federal government after having determined the areas where funding is most important.

Once the federal and state governments agree to a plan, both must also agree on a third party to conduct research monitoring the results.

The report suggests creating a clearinghouse for program and survey data to conduct analysis of safety-net programs that would compile anonymous participant data from across the programs.

Measures to protect privacy rights would be taken, the report says, although none were mentioned, likely because of the proposal being in its early phases.

States can also choose to use the funding to expand programs that partner with local service providers, including non-profits, for-profits, or community groups, Ryan said, adding that such groups would better facilitate one-on-one case management.

In a USA Today op-ed article on Wednesday arguing the same proposal, Ryan highlighted the complexity of enrolling in the litany of programs.

“Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs, often with different paperwork requirements and eligibility standards,” Ryan wrote.

The Opportunity Grant would eliminate that complexity, Ryan added.

Another provision of his proposal included an increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers by nearly doubling the maximum credit for such workers to $1,005 while lowering the minimum eligibility age to 21 from 25—all without raising taxes.

He said the cost would be supported by the elimination of ineffective programs and corporate welfare.

“Stop the programs that don’t work and support the programs that do,” Ryan said.

Following Ryan’s remarks on his proposal, the representative sat down with panelists to discuss it.

Bob Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said the proposal would do something other programs have failed to do—distinguish different types of poverty.

“People on the left, when they look at poor people they see a sea of victims,” Woodson said. “People on the right see a sea of aliens.”

He said government programs need to better suit individuals’ personal needs.

In addition to the Opportunity Grant, Ryan also touched on other socioeconomic issues in need of reform.

He proposed accreditation reform to make education more affordable and accessible, and reforms to job-training programs that would allow for employer-designed curriculum.

Ryan also mentioned criminal justice policy measures intended to reduce recidivism and to reform sentencing guidelines.

“Here’s the point: non-violent, low-risk offenders—don’t lock them up and throw away the key,” Ryan said. “Get them in counseling; get them in job training; help them rejoin and contribute to our society.”