Press Release ● Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity
For Immediate Release: 
June 6, 2016

To: Editors, Editorial Writers, Reporters
From: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer & Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Chair of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity 
Re
A #BetterWay…to Describe the Same Bad Policy to Address Poverty
Date: June 6, 2016

Tomorrow, House Speaker Paul Ryan is set to unveil the first plank of his “A Better Way” platform, which he says will put those living in poverty “on the ladder of opportunity, reward work, [and] open our economy so everyone can make the most of their lives.” While Speaker Ryan claims that he’s offering an alternative vision to the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, press reports already indicate this “new” agenda will be just more of the same tired and failed policies that House Republicans have put forward in the past.  CQ Budget Tracker reported on Friday:

“People with knowledge of the poverty plan said they expect it to borrow heavily from an anti-poverty agenda crafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin in his last year as House Budget chairman in 2014. That plan included a proposal to consolidate multiple federal funding streams, including food stamps, housing assistance and child care, into an opportunity grant that would provide states with greater flexibility in designing programs to help individuals escape poverty, as long as the efforts showed results.”

While Speaker Ryan may be using new vocabulary to describe his anti-poverty agenda, his intent to gut the safety net remains clear. We know that his “opportunity grant” proposal would worsen poverty by consolidating and limiting access to 11 programs, which provide critical resources such as nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and child care, into a single block grant to states. Those programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance Payments,  Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds,  Child Care and Development Fund, The Weatherization Assistance Program, The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and WIA Dislocated Workers. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan’s “opportunity grant” proposal would decrease the total funding and program eligibility for struggling families and decrease the number of Americans eligible for assistance. Nutrition assistance, in particular, would be put in jeopardy. Robert Greenstein of CBPP wrote in a commentary piece when Ryan unveiled the plan:

“Lest we forget, the nation has made enormous strides in reducing hunger and malnutrition, especially among children, since the late 1960s… SNAP’s entitlement nature lies at the heart of this success.  The single most troubling aspect of the Opportunity Grant proposal is its removal of that essential feature from one of the biggest successes in American social policy.  For that reason, as well as others noted here, the Ryan Opportunity Grant proposal would likely make conditions for America’s poor families and children worse overall rather than better.”   

In addition to the “opportunity grant” proposal, House Republicans have a long history of putting forward proposals that would worsen poverty. For example:

  • Republican anti-poverty budgets: Previous Republican budget proposals have disinvested in our nation and cut support for struggling families to pay for tax giveaways to the super rich and well-connected. The budget put forward by House Republicans this year – like every budget since Ryan became Ranking Member of the Budget Committee in 2007 – would exacerbate poverty and make it more difficult for Americans to work their way into the middle class. The Republican budget would:
    • Cut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
    • Repeal the patient protections of the Affordable Care Act;
    • End the Medicare guarantee;
    • Cut nutrition assistance, Meals on Wheels, and Pell Grants; and
    • Slash funding that encourages job growth and workforce development.

When it became clear that their budget proposal wasn’t extreme enough for their own Members to support this year, House Republican leaders suggested further cuts to programs that support Americans living in poverty. Yet, they still didn’t have the votes to pass their budget.

  • Nutrition assistance cuts and child nutrition “reforms:” From their budget to their Farm bill, they have repeatedly attempted to cut assistance that helps those living in poverty put food on the table. Their original Farm bill proposal attempted to cut between $20.5 billion and $39 billion from food stamps over a ten year period. They have also recently put forward a Child Nutrition Reauthorization proposal that would mean more kids would go hungry at school. Congress has a responsibility to improve access to school nutrition programs and ensure that our nation’s children can maximize their educational potential. Yet, House Republicans want to go in the opposite direction and cause more children to go hungry.

If the Speaker was serious about alleviating poverty, then he would work with Democrats to take meaningful action to lift up the most vulnerable and expand opportunity. Instead, he is using new rhetoric to describe the same failed policy proposals of the past.  

This isn’t “A Better Way” to reduce poverty and make the American Dream accessible to everyone – it’s the Wrong Way. Speaker Ryan has simply found a better way for House Republicans to describe their long-standing policy priorities, which we know won’t work. As House Republicans unveil their agenda in the coming days, House Democrats will discuss how this approach is the wrong way to address poverty and continue to hold the GOP accountable for their draconian policies that will make life harder for low-income Americans.