Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 18, 2014

Ryan Calls for Overhaul of Anti-Poverty Programs

ryan pocan 200 022714 445x303 Ryan Calls for Overhaul of Anti Poverty Programs

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A 204-page report released Monday by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan provides ammunition for critics of government anti-poverty programs — but could also provide fodder for Democrats looking for an election-year bludgeon against Republicans.

“For too long, we have measured compassion by how much we spend instead of how many people get out of poverty,” Ryan said in a statement Monday. “We need to take a hard look at what the federal government is doing and ask, ‘Is this working?’”

The Wisconsin Republican said the report would “help start the conversation” and that the report “shows that some programs work; others don’t.” He also said that for many other anti-poverty programs, “we just don’t know.”

“Clearly, we can do better,” Ryan said. “We can rework these federal programs and help families in need lead lives of dignity.”

Ryan’s report examines the history of poverty programs, and concludes that while programs like Medicaid, food stamps and Head Start were meant to eliminate poverty in America, “almost immediately, people identified disincentives associated with the collection of new programs.”

The report does laud state experimentation with welfare programs, and it praises the welfare overhaul of the 1990s.

But the report concludes that the poverty rate is stuck at 15 percent — the highest in a generation, ”And the trends are not encouraging. Federal programs are not only failing to address the problem. They are also in some significant respects making it worse. Changes are clearly necessary, and the first step is to evaluate what the federal government is doing right now … That is what this report aims to do. Because there are so many programs, it is difficult to pin down everything the federal government is doing to fight poverty and improve mobility. But the numbers below—from fiscal year 2012—are a good start:

  • The federal government spent $799 billion on 92 programs to combat poverty
  • Over 15 programs and over $100 billion spent on food aid
  • Over $200 billion spent on cash aid
  • Over 20 programs and over $90 billion spent on education and job training
  •  Nearly $300 billion spent on health care
  •  Almost $50 billion spent on housing

Not every program is counterproductive or unnecessary; indeed, some are very important. But
the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty is an opportunity to review the record in full. And
we should seize it.”

The report then goes on to detail a number of major anti-poverty programs with a brief purpose of the program, a lengthier history section, an evidence section where the report highlights certain analyses of that program to prove a conclusion — like Head Start, “as a whole, is failing to prepare children for school” — and it provides a section on the cost of each program.

The report also offers this chart of the number of federal programs and the cost of them in fiscal 2012:

Program Area  # Of Federal Programs  Cost In FY2012
Cash aid  5  $220 billion
Education and job training  28  $94.4 billion
Energy  2  $3.9 billion
Food aid  17  $105 billion
Health care  8  $291.3 billion
Housing  22  $49.6 billion
Social Services  8  $13 billion
Veterans  2  $21.8 billion
TOTALS  92  $799 billion

Ryan’s report does not promise overhaul — only a “conversation.”

But already there has been a sharp-partisan divide over these programs. While the report decrying a “poverty trap” that provides disincentives to work, Democrats have beaten up past Ryan budgets for balancing the books on the backs of the poor while protecting tax loopholes for the rich and corporations.

The report targets a number of popular government assistance programs, like Head Start and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the report defends a number of tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, saying that those tax credits provide incentives to work.

Ryan said he hoped the report would inform the public debate, and he said the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, which was started under President Lyndon Baines Johnson during his 1964 State of the Union, was an “opportunity to review the record in full.”

  • BMarie

    All programs that provide a disincentive to work or get married should be immediately discontinued. Anyone physically or mentally capable of working should be expected to do something for the aid they receive, even if it is just cleaning streets or volunteering at some child care facility. And early childhood programs may be wonderful for early development, but why can’t kids be kids for a few years. These are mostly glorified subsidized baby-sitting programs. We would be better off providing a couple of years of community college or apprenticeship programs than wasting money on early childhood programs. And all the money spent on breakfast and lunch programs and ensuring children have “balanced” nutritional programs is ridiculous. We grew up in a poor family having oatmeal for breakfast every single day for years, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a piece of fruit and milk for lunch and some sort of casserole in the evening, thin on meat and strong on vegetables. We could save a fortune by getting rid of all the nutritional requirements and provide simple meals to those who need it. The U.S. taxpayer should not have to subsidize people’s choices to continue to have children they cannot afford and who often do it just to get an increase in their welfare payment. And all too often their children are abused and neglected. It’s time to admit that after half a century of the War on Poverty the things we have been doing have only made it worse.

  • F Michael Addams

    Paulies Deficit Army sports new uniforms..!…

  • deadgeorge

    Anti-Poverty programs are for the rich to feel like something is being done about poverty without spending any of their own time or money. If poverty angers or saddens you, go and help; dont ask government to do what you cant be bothered at you own time and expense to accomplish.

  • docb

    Lyin ryan is about punishing the most vulnerable to protect the wealthy class he aspires to!

  • Frunobulax

    I am sure Ryan’s soup kitchen experience will be invaluable in this.

  • Mark Uss
  • Jon McCasper

    I think we can all agree that Barack Obama is dangerously delusional.

  • Wuthie

    As a volunteer to help the needy and a person with low life relatives that think that it is their right to take all government money they can get. They tell me is their job, and I am stupid for not taking the free money. I see both sides. I would like to see something done. I don’t think we should just send money to people able to work without working. There is a lot of volunteer work that needs to be done for people that legitimately need help. They should get paid by the no. of hours they donate.

    There are also those that really need help and are too proud to ask for it. But we shouldn’t cut plans off until others are put in place to address both those that really need it and those that just want it.

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