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Granite State Rumblings: Even Paul Ryan Sees We Must Do Something About Poverty

Last week Representative Paul Ryan unveiled his plan to fight poverty in America. He calls it “Expanding Opportunity in America”. In this plan States would have the option of combining up to 11 safety net programs to pilot what he calls new approaches to case management and services delivery.

Well, not all states, as Chairman Ryan writes in his plan, “….this proposal would create a new pilot project in a select number of states. In participating states, the federal government would consolidate a number of means-tested programs into a new Opportunity Grant (OG) program. The largest contributions would come from SNAP, TANF, child-care (CCDBG), and housing-assistance programs and the funding would be deficit-neutral relative to current law”.  (page 14)

In other words this plan would consolidate the programs into a single block grant for states. Block grants tend to reduce the efficiency of the program over time, as we have witnessed with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF). This program was block granted in 1996 as part of welfare reform and has never seen an increase in funding. In fact, it has lost more than 30% of its value when adjusted for inflation.

Block grant programs cannot respond to economic downturns that result in increased needs. As noted by Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas in a July 24th blog post, “this was apparent during the Great Recession. While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, proved incredibly responsive to the economic downturn, with enrollment increasing from about 20 million individuals in 2007 to more than 44 million in 2011, the number of families that TANF helped barely budged and actually declined in some states despite the tremendous increase in poverty and hardship. Yet Rep. Ryan’s plan includes SNAP—one of our strongest countercyclical and anti-poverty programs—as a candidate for consolidation. While he claims that ultimately a countercyclical element could be built into the block grant, he acknowledges that in the pilot stage it would not be included, making the state pilots looks more like TANF. This type of reform does not build on what works”.

The plan also calls for those who receive assistance to work with state agencies or community organizations to develop a life plan – “…a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty”. That sounds great, a roadmap out of poverty. But, this roadmap comes with a timeline for meeting benchmarks written into the life plan, and sanctions if you miss that benchmark, as well as a time limit for remaining on assistance.

Haven’t we been down this road before in welfare reform too?

Like the current time limit for those in today’s TANF program, what happens to those who have not yet reached financial independence in the required amount of time because their earnings from employment do not raise them out of poverty?

Contrary to Representative Ryan’s assertion that “the biggest snag in the safety net is that it discourages work,” many individuals living in poverty are employed. There is no plan to raise the minimum wage in this proposal. This is unfortunate given that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the minimum wage were increased to $10.10 an hour by mid-2016, it would immediately lift about 900,000 workers out of poverty.

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes, “While some other elements of the Ryan poverty plan deserve serious consideration, such as those relating to the Earned Income Tax Credit and criminal justice reform, his “Opportunity Grant” would likely increase poverty and hardship, and is therefore ill-advised”.

We agree. However, Representative Ryan has opened the door to having a national discussion about poverty. We must not allow that door to close.

GROWING UP GRANITE

From our friends at NH Kids Count:

New Hampshire Drops in National Child Well-Being Ranking from #1 to #4

Demographic, social and economic changes combined with major policy developments have affected the lives of children in both positive and negative ways since 1990, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th edition of its annual Kids Count Data Book.  New Hampshire, which has been ranked first in the nation in overall child well-being for more than ten years, fell in ranking this year, moving from first to fourth behind Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa.

Mimicking national gains, New Hampshire saw measurable improvements in education, health and safety.  More children are attending preschool, the number of children without health insurance declined and the number of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs also decreased.

Despite these positive advancements, negative trends in economic well-being continue to significantly impact the vitality of New Hampshire’s children and families. New Hampshire’s child poverty rate continues to rise more than the national average, and surged from 9 percent to 16 percent between 2005 and 2012.  The number of New Hampshire children whose parents lack secure employment increased by  24 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. And, between 2005 and 2012,New Hampshire saw an increase in the number of children in single parent families, from 24 percent to 30 percent (80,000 children); a 25 percent change.

In addition, the high cost of housing continues to affect 39 percent of NH children and their families.

While New Hampshire fell in ranking, it is still within the top five states nationally.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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