In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a new plan today designed to fight poverty, expand opportunity for Americans nationwide and increase upward mobility.
Ryan discussed his blueprint at the American Enterprise Institute. He said:
Hardworking taxpayers deserve a break in this country. Too many families are working harder and harder to get ahead, and yet they’re falling further and further behind. The costs of food, housing and gas keep going up, but paychecks haven’t budged. So whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think we can all agree: America deserves better.
According to Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, the government devotes close to $800 billion on 92 federal programs designed to lift Americans out of poverty. But, he said, the poverty rate has reached new highs.”When you take a step back and look at all this, you just have to think, ‘We can do better,’” he remarked.
Ryan announced his support for a number of initiatives proposed by his Republican colleagues in Congress, including an increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit — a tax credit for low-income working Americans — for childless workers. The Wisconsin Republican proposed lowering the minimum eligibility age from 25 to 21 and doubling the maximum credit available to $1,005.
The proposal mimics that of President Obama’s, who announced changes to the EITC in his 2014 State of the Union address.
In a February post on The Daily Signal, Robert Rector, senior research fellow on domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation, said changes to the EITC like Ryan’s and Obama’s “discourage marriage by rewarding those who do not marry or support their children.”
Ryan also offered a number of proposals designed to “empower” people, beginning with a pilot program called the Opportunity Grant. The initiative, he explained, would allow states to combine funding of up to 11 different federal programs — from food stamps and housing assistance to welfare. Doing so, he said, would allow states to try different ways of providing aid to its residents. He continued:
“In short, we’re reconceiving the federal government’s role. No longer will it try to supplant our communities, but to support them. In my view, the federal government is the rearguard — it protects the supply lines. But the people on the ground — they’re the vanguard. They fight poverty on the front lines. They have to lead this effort, and Washington should follow their lead.”
Ryan also called on Congress to pass a proposal championed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. The legislation would reform the accreditation process for schools and reform job-training programs. “If employers can design their own curriculum, then workers will know just what skills they need,” Ryan said.
Lastly, Ryan spoke to the need for reforms to the criminal justice system, which include changes to sentencing guidelines and recidivism programs to allow low-risk, nonviolent offenders to exchange prison time for time in pre-release custody.
“As a matter of principle, we need to build a society where hard work is rewarded and every American has the opportunity to succeed regardless of birthplace or background,” Ryan said. “And to do that, everybody’s got to get involved. If we all work together, we can build a healthy economy. We can fix this. We can get this done. That’s what hardworking taxpayers want, and that’s what they deserve.”
Rachel Sheffield, policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity, suggested Congress look to the welfare reform enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1996 for a model of success. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program inserted a work requirement into the largest cash-assistance welfare program and capped welfare funding to a fixed amount, reforming it from an open-ended entitlement.
Sheffield also said it was important for any type of welfare reform to focus on two elements: work and marriage. She said:
Welfare reform proposals like this one must take that seriously, taking time to create a solid work requirement as the 1996 reform did. Welfare reform should also cap welfare spending in order to get the cost of the ever-growing welfare system under control.
Ryan spent the last year traveling the country and meeting with Americans living in inner-cities to examine the progress made in the War on Poverty.
In March, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee released a report titled “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later” analyzing the effectiveness of government programs that aim to lift Americans out of poverty.