House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a sweeping anti-poverty proposal Thursday, which aims to streamline federal funding to states.
In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Ryan proposed a pilot program that would give participating states an “opportunity grant.” The grant would consolidate funding for 11 federal programs, such as food stamps, housing assistance, child care, etc., into one funding stream to the state.
“In effect, the state would say, give us some space and we can figure this out,” the Wisconsin Republican said Thursday.
Ryan said states could volunteer to participate in the program and would have to agree to a number of conditions, including allowing a neutral third party to track their program’s progress. “The idea would be: let states try different ways of providing aid and then test the results,” said Ryan. “In short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability. My thinking basically is: get rid of these bureaucratic formulas and put the emphasis on results.”
According to Ryan, the “opportunity grants” would be budget neutral.
Ryan also pledged his support for a number of proposals in the House and Senate that he said “expand opportunity by taking decision making away from Washington and bringing more accountability to government at all levels.”
Among them were increasing the earned income tax credit for childless workers, reviewing standards for colleges, revamping job training programs, reforming criminal sentencing guidelines, and mandating that Congress review any federal regulation that could harm poor families.
But Democrats are wary of Ryan’s plan. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member on the Budget Committee, said Friday that consolidating the funding could be detrimental to those in poverty.
“What Mr. Ryan is proposing is a whole-sale bloc grant on many programs including the food and nutrition program, which we’ve always had as a guarantee for people at the lowest income levels to makes sure that in their most difficult times at least they will get that food and nutrition assistance,” Van Hollen told NBC’s Chuck Todd on The Daily Rundown. “Under the Ryan plan, that guarantee is taken away.”
Van Hollen also said there is a “total disconnect between the Ryan program and his budget,” arguing that Ryan’s budget significantly cuts the anti-poverty programs in his most recent proposal.
Ryan's poverty plan comes a few months after he faced sharp criticism for what he said was an "inarticulate" statement about poverty in the inner cities. At the time he said he was trying to say that "government and families have to do more and rethink our approach for fighting poverty."
Ryan said Thursday that his proposal is “a discussion draft” that aims to foster a conversation about how best to combat poverty. He encouraged the audience and those listening to his speech to email ExpandingOpportunity@mail.house.gov with their feedback.
“I don’t have all the answers,” said Ryan. “Far from it.”