07.23.14

Will Congressman Ryan's Anti-Poverty Plan Heed the Advice of the Experts and Break With the GOP Budget?

Tomorrow, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will present his proposal to address poverty in the United States. We welcome any ideas that lift more Americans out of poverty and create pathways into the middle class, but we will oppose any plan that uses the sunny language of "reform" as a guise to cut vital safety-net programs.

The Ryan plan should be judged against what we learned from the experts who testified at our five Budget Committee hearings on this issue, and by how it aligns with the Republican budget.

Democrats and Republicans agree that, for all those who can work, the best anti-poverty measure is a job. But what happens when full-time, year-round jobs don't pay enough to live on, or when unemployment remains high? Will Mr. Ryan's proposal raise the minimum wage or invest in job creation?

And how do we best help those who are still struggling to make ends meet? We have made significant strides in reducing poverty over the last half-century, but we must do more. Our hearings have shown the disconnect between wanting to address the issue of poverty and the actual impact the Republican budget would have on those working to build a better life for their children.

The GOP budget makes very clear choices: special-interest tax breaks at the expense of middle-class families and those working hard to climb out of poverty and into the middle class. Republicans voted for a one-third cut in tax rates for millionaires while targeting about two thirds of their budget cuts to initiatives that help middle- and lower-income individuals.

Once fully phased in, the GOP budget would reduce SNAP benefits by more than one quarter, potentially hurting millions of vulnerable Americans, almost half of whom are kids. And while Republicans are quick to insist that federal assistance recipients must work, they ignore the fact that 80 percent of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the disabled, and the elderly, who are not expected to work, or individuals who do work.

Will Chairman Ryan heed the testimony of Jon Baron, President of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, who said that it was clear that programs like food stamps pull many people out of poverty?

The Republican budget also slashes more than $700 billion from the base Medicaid program and repeals both the optional state Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and the financial assistance for private coverage, throwing millions off their health insurance.

Will Chairman Ryan finally explain how dramatically decreased resources will help the seniors, kids, and working families that Medicaid serves?

The GOP's budget also chops away at the ladders of opportunity in our country. If applied proportionately, its reckless cuts to non-defense discretionary investments would savage investments in early education and K-12 by 24 percent over the next nine years and contribute to a cut of over $260 billion to higher-education policy, including Pell grants, student loans, and tax credits.

Ron Haskins, Co-Director of the Brookings Institution Center for Children and Families, testified, "This is an economy where education is a premium. You literally cannot expect to make good money unless you have at least some college or a specific skill." Will Chairman Ryan reverse course on these devastating cuts?

There were two reforms highlighted in our hearings that seemed to enjoy broad support.

One was identified by Tianna Gaines-Turner, with Witnesses to Hunger, who discussed the drop-off in certain federal support services when individuals begin to earn more -- the so-called "cliff effect." As she pointed out to the Committee, "the problem is that once you get to a certain platform, you are knocked back down."

Will Chairman Ryan propose smoothing out the sudden cliff effects in certain programs that families rely on as they get back on their feet? This will require more resources, not fewer. It is worth noting that the Affordable Care Act also significantly reduced the issue of the cliff effect. Will Chairman Ryan stop pushing to repeal that law?

The second idea emphasized by many, including Heather Reynolds, President and CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, is the importance of case management, which is designed to better coordinate the services available to families. These very activities would come under the knife in the Republican budget.

Will Mr. Ryan listen to Ms. Reynolds, who made clear that successful case-management programs require an up-front investment? We support smarter coordination, but all the case managers in the world won't be able to help if we gut all the resources that they are supposed to "manage."

The Republican budget is full of Trojan-Horse policies that shred the social safety net in the name of reform. It does not reduce poverty: It takes away supports that are helping reduce poverty. We hope that Chairman Ryan's proposal heeds the advice of the experts and adds to our current efforts to create jobs, make work pay, and lift more Americans out of poverty.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) is a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Appropriations Committee and Chair of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.

To read this op-ed in its original format, go here.