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Rep. Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan: The Good and the Bad

The new poverty plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has received both negative and positive reactions from conservatives and liberals. This new proposal seems to be the only sign of potential progress in the long war on poverty. Paul Ryan’s 76 page plan offers a state option block grant that would replace the existing federal welfare programs. It would also expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit, fix federal education funding to make it more flexible, address the issues with mass incarceration and get rid of regressive regulation. With some good and bad aspects to all of these components, the proposal must be dissected in order to reveal whether or not the plan as a whole would reduce national poverty.

Paul Ryan's "Expanding opportunity in America" seeks bipartisan support for alleviating poverty in the U.S.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Paul Ryan and most conservatives reject the current welfare system, agreeing that instead of assisting individuals out of poverty it cripples citizens and encourages dependency on government hand-outs. One of the main components to Ryan’s poverty plan involves a large block grant to the state which would give each state control over how the money will be distributed with general guidelines provided by the federal government. Giving states control over funds may seem like it would beneficial because they would be able to better distribute the money according to the state’s best interests. However, block grants are not a new concept in the United States. In 1996, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. This legislation allows for a great amount of discretion involving how the states distribute the entitlements. States also have the authority to completely terminate payments to recipients .The unfortunately reality of giving states full control of the funds would mean unequal distribution around the country. It has been shown from past programs like TANF, that many states develop policies that severely limit funding. It would also mean consolidating all of the programs into one, which would give a clear cut in funding.

With the conservative notion of dependence on uncle sam being underlying principle, an incentives systems would be put into place in order to give each individual or family goals to obtain to gradually lift themselves out of poverty. With these benchmarks in place, citizens receiving the aid must reach their goal at a certain time or face repercussions. While personal motivation to find a job is extremely important in this process, it is also important to acknowledge that parts of the hiring process are out of the individuals hands. In tough economic times it is a struggle to find jobs all across the country, it does not make sense for one to be punished for the shortcomings of society.

This plan also calls for case managers that would oversee each parties individual case in order to provide them with the correct funding and plan that suites their life. In theory this sounds like good plan. Each individuals case is different from the last and should be treated as so, however, how will the plan be implemented? Providing a case worker for each individual or family may not be efficient. Not only would it be extremely costly to hire tens of thousands of employees to meet the amount of people needing assistance, it would be costly to buy the equipment and facilities needed for this proposal. With a consolidation of all the programs, the budget cut will not be able to provide the finances for this project. Also this program would inevitably be distributed throughout all 50 states. With differences in state governments there would be a great variation between the quality of the benefits being rolled out.

Although Ryans plan has many shortcomings, some of the ideas about earned-income tax credit and addressing levels of incarceration could have a positive effect on alleviating poverty. Expanding earned-income tax credit for childless workers, which would be paid for by cutting other programs would allow a refundable tax credit that subsidizes wages for low-income workers. These workers receive the full value regardless how little income tax they owe. This is both a simple and effective way to promote work and help keep people above water. Ryan also wants to lower the age rate of acceptance from 25 to 21 and send out the money monthly instead of one lump sum yearly. The funds used to sponsor this program would come from cut programs considered to be inefficient.

This plan also proposes a prison sentencing reform. The U.S. has more prisoners than almost any other country in the world. This is in large part due to imprisoning so many non violent offenders. There seems to be a cycle involving incarceration within the United States. Not only are minor offenders being incarcerated they are imprisoned for a wide range of time on tax payers money, once they are released society makes it nearly impossible for them to find a job, condemning them to a crime filed life. Ryan’s plan seeks to relax the laws that impose harsh sentences on non violent offenders to help them get employed once they are released.

The main aspects of Rep. Paul Ryan’s new poverty plan, “Expanding opportunity in America”, has some good and bad proposals. Although this document is just a draft with mainly conservative ideas on how to boost employment and reduce poverty in the United States, it is a step in the right direction. Congressional leaders all around the country should follow Ryan’s lead in taking domestic poverty seriously. Unemployment and poverty effects millions of individuals around the nation, and it is about time our representatives come together to discuss and draft key legislation on this matter.