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“Paul Ryan’s Stale Ideas On Poverty”: Retreaded Idea’s Surrounded With The Language Of Innovation

Paul Ryan is counting on this: Because he says he wants to preserve a safety net, speaks with concern about poor people and put out a 73-page report, many will elide over the details of the proposals he made last week in his major anti-poverty speech.

The Wisconsin Republican congressman is certainly aware that one of the biggest political difficulties he and his conservative colleagues face is that many voters suspect them of having far more compassion for a wealthy person paying taxes than for a poor or middle-income person looking for a job.

So Ryan gave a well-crafted address at the American Enterprise Institute in which the centerpiece sounded brand spanking new: the “Opportunity Grant.” The problem is that this “pilot program” amounts to little more than the stale conservative idea of wrapping federal programs into a block grant and shipping them off to the states. The good news is that Ryan only proposes “experiments” involving “a select number of states,” so he would not begin eliminating programs wholesale. Thank God for small favors.

Ryan surrounds his retread idea with the language of innovation. “The idea would be, let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results — in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability,” he declared. “My thinking basically is, get rid of these bureaucratic formulas.”

Who can possibly like those “bureaucratic formulas”? The phrase is another disguise. Among the programs Ryan would block grant are food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). Food stamps are one of our most valuable initiatives because people are automatically eligible for them when they lose a job or their income drops sharply. Studies have amply documented how important food stamps are to the well-being of children.

For the economy and for the disadvantaged, curtailing SNAP would be devastating. While providing nutrition help to families in desperate need, food stamps also offer an immediate economic stimulus at moments when the economy is losing purchasing power. Economists call such programs “automatic stabilizers.”

Ryan’s block grant would not be nearly as responsive to economic changes. If Congress would have to step in, its reaction would be slow. And the history of Ryan’s own budgets shows that increasing spending for poor people is not exactly a priority on his side of politics.

Food stamps aren’t the only programs that get wrapped into the grant. Housing vouchers go there, too, which could lead to more homelessness. So does money for child care. Ryan says there would be rules barring states from using funding from his Opportunity Grant for purposes other than helping the needy. But it’s not clear from his outline how he’d stop states from using their new flexibility to move spending away from the needy indirectly by substituting block grant money for existing expenditures.

Ryan might reply: You just don’t trust the states! And my answer would be: You’re absolutely right, there are some states I don’t trust to stand up for their poor people. I’d point specifically to the 24 states that are depriving roughly 5 million Americans of health insurance because they refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

In his speech and report, Ryan movingly described two hypothetical Americans, “Andrea” and “Steven,” and how much they could benefit from intense counseling by a case worker. There may well be something to this, but it’s expensive. How much would states have to cut basic assistance to the poor to hire additional case workers?

And by the way, one of the programs Ryan would eliminate to pay for an undoubtedly positive part of his plan — a roughly $500-a-year increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers — is the Social Services Block Grant, which helps pay for the kinds of interventions he wants for Andrea and Steven.

There is such a hunger for something other than partisanship that the temptation is to praise the new Ryan for being better than the old Ryan and to leave it at that. It’s good that he moved on the EITC and also that he embraced sentencing reform. I also like his suggestion that we re-examine occupational licensing rules.

But forgive me if I see his overall proposal as a nicely presented abdication of federal responsibility for the poor. “Experimenting” with people’s food-stamp money is not something we should sign onto.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 27, 2014

July 29, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Stealth Sequester”: Americans Are Starting To Feel The Pain, They Just Don’t Know It Yet

So far, the much-dreaded “sequester” – some $85 billion in federal spending cuts between March and September 30 – hasn’t been evident to most Americans.

The dire warnings that had issued from the White beforehand – threatening that Social Security checks would be delayed, airport security checks would be clogged, and other federal facilities closed – seem to have been overblown.

Sure, March’s employment report was a big disappointment. But it’s hard to see any direct connection between those poor job numbers and the sequester. The government has been shedding jobs for years. Most of the losses in March were from the Postal Service.

Take a closer look, though, and Americans are starting to feel the pain. They just don’t know it yet.

That’s because so much of what the government does affects the nation in local, decentralized ways. Federal funds find their way to community housing authorities, state unemployment offices, local school districts, private universities, and companies. So it’s hard for most Americans to know the sequester is responsible for the lost funding, lost jobs, or just plain inconvenience.

A tiny sampling: Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts is bracing for a cut of about $51 million in its $685 million of annual federal research grants and contracts. The public schools of Syracuse, New York, will lose over $1 million. The housing authority of Joliet, Illinois, will take a hit of nearly $900,000. Northrop Grumman Information Systems just issued layoff notices to 26 employees at its plant in Lawton, Oklahoma. Unemployment benefits are being cut in Pennsylvania and Utah.

The cuts — and thousands like them — are so particular and localized they don’t feel as if they’re the result of a change in national policy.

It’s just like what happened with the big federal stimulus of 2009 and 2010, but in reverse. Then, money flowed out to so many different places and institutions that most Americans weren’t aware of the stimulus program as a whole.

A second reason the sequester hasn’t been visible is a large share of the cuts are in programs directed at the poor – and America’s poor are often invisible.

For example, the Salt Lake Community Action Program recently closed a food pantry in Murray, Utah, serving more than 1,000 needy people every month. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is closing a center that gives alcohol and drug treatment to Native Alaskans.

Some 1,700 poor families in and around Sacramento, California are likely to lose housing vouchers that pay part of their rents. More than 180 students are likely to be dropped from a Head Start program run by the Cincinnati-Hamilton County (Ohio) Community Action Agency.

Most Americans don’t know about these and other cuts because the poor live in different places than the middle class and wealthy. Poverty has become ever more concentrated geographically.

A third reason the sequester is invisible is many people whose jobs are affected by it are being “furloughed” rather than fired. “Furlough” is a euphemism for working shorter workweeks and taking pay cuts.

Two thousand civilian employees at the Army Research Lab in Maryland will be subject to one-day-per-week furloughs starting on April 22, for example, resulting in a 20 percent drop in pay. The Hancock Field Air National Guard Base is furloughing 280 workers. Many federal courts are now closed on Fridays.

Furloughs spread the pain. The hardship isn’t as evident as it would be if it came in the form of mass layoffs. But don’t fool yourself: A 20 percent pay cut is a huge burden for those who have to endure it.

Bear in mind, finally, the sequester is just starting. The sheer scale of it is guaranteed to make it far more apparent in coming months.

Some 140,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers, for example. Entire communities that depend mainly on defense-related industries or facilities will take major hits.

If you thought March’s job numbers were disappointing, just wait.

With the sequester, America has adopted austerity economics. Yet austerity economics is the wrong medicine at exactly the wrong time. Look what it’s done to Europe.

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, April 8, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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