Paul Ryan’s plan to address poverty

Congressman Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, released last week his anti-poverty discussion draft on July 24, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” proposing reforms concerning the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), education, and criminal justice. Central to his proposal is the creation of an “Opportunity Grant,” which would offer states funds to replace existing federal welfare and assistance programs as they see fit. State participation would be voluntary and entail submission of a plan to the federal government outlining McSilverType3proposed policies concerning food assistance, housing subsidies, and childcare services. Citing the EITC as a proven way to alleviate poverty,the Wisconsin Congressman’s plan also proposes to expand the program through simplification of the application process.
Another significant aspect of the Ryan plan focuses on reforming education through distributing block grants, refinancing higher education, expanding accreditation options so that more students could receive financial aid, and consolidating federal jobs programs. Again, this approach would shift the emphasis from Washington to state governments in determining the allocation of funds to anti-poverty programs and policies. Congressman Ryan has stated that he does not intend to cut the budget but redirect funds to create space for more flexibility at the state level.


Common among both critics and supporters of Ryan’s anti-poverty plan is the acknowledgement that the draft represents some degree of separation from his previous proposals and views around addressing poverty. A stark contrast from his 2008 anti-poverty proposal, Roadmap for America’s Future, “Expanding Opportunity in America” does not advocate for the dismantling of the social safety net but instead calls for reforms within the existing system.


Unsurprisingly, the plan has not been met with universal approval, and Ryan faced criticism earlier this year before the proposal’s unveiling for his comments that American poverty results from a “real culture problem” in which people refuse to work. Despite his efforts to visit impoverished cities and convey compassion, preemptive criticism continued to emerge before the publication of his draft, challenging certain assumptions and evidence cited by Ryan’s proponents. Ryan plan opponents maintain that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the existing safety net and that consistent poverty results from the lack of employment opportunities and adequate earnings necessary for upward economic mobility. Some critics have also argued that while his latest plan is an improvement over previous proposals, it remains largely paternalistic and by reallocating funds to state governments might strip away vital social supports.


Direct Service Implications

While taken as a whole, “Expanding Opportunity in America” would completely transform how much of the social safety net operates in the United States. Under the current make-up of Congress, Ryan’s plan is more likely a jumping off point for Republicans changing their tone and approach to addressing poverty ahead of the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections than any likely imminent policy changes. The idea of combining federal assistance programs into block grants to give states more flexibility in how those dollars are spent is something to keep an eye on, however, as it could put serious strains on certain services with the potential decrease of available resources.

Courtesy of McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy and Research who has kindly given SJS permission to syndicate this piece.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Policy News Briefs are not necessarily the views of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research or NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. If you have comments or suggestions about this service, contact us at


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One Response

  1. Henri Fletcher-Lockhart July 31, 2014

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