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: The Republican Study Committee’s Misleading Report: Strengthening Our Safety Net to Empower People
Date: April 26, 2016
Late on Friday, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released recommendations for Speaker Ryan’s six Republican task forces. While the recommendations to all six task forces are deeply troubling, the recommendations for the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility, which are outlined in Strengthening Our Safety Net to Empower People, are particularly egregious in their inaccuracy and callousness.
With more than half of all American families experiencing poverty or near-poverty during at least one year of their lives, struggling families need more than austerity, trickle-down economics, and ineffective block grants. The American people deserve effective anti-poverty programs, which will lift those in need out of poverty and provide opportunity to enter the middle class.
Here’s a look at six of the most disturbing elements of the report:
1) Numbers without context. In the opening pages of its recommendations, the RSC bemoans the federal government’s investment in anti-poverty programs since 1964. The RSC uses a dollar amount that the government has spent, which earned “two Pinocchios” from the Washington Post. Furthermore, the RSC fails to provide appropriate context concerning the effectiveness of these programs. Without them, the poverty rate would be 50% higher.
2) Advocacy for government intrusion into family life. In its report, the RSC outlines its intrusive ideology about what American families should look like. Instead of working to empower all families, including those with single parents, the RSC demonizes families that don’t reflect its members' vision of the traditional American household.
3) Misleading statements about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The RSC lauds “conservative reforms” to TANF under the header: “We Know What Works.” However, only one in three families living in poverty are helped by TANF. Instead, many states are using TANF block grants to plus-up their budgets without actually investing in struggling families.
4) Ending SSI as we know it. With seniors and people with disabilities struggling to stay out of poverty, the RSC outlines a program to end supplemental security income (SSI) as we know it. In 2010, SSI reduced the aggregate poverty gap by more than two-thirds. Its proposal would convert this highly-successful program into yet another block grant program, allowing states to raid these critical funds instead of ensuring robust support for the health and welfare of seniors, people with disabilities, and families with disabled children.
5) Failure to recognize that unemployment and underemployment are still challenges. As our economy rebounds from the Great Recession, many Americans are still struggling to find jobs that pay well and lead to opportunity, yet the RSC advocates kicking families off of critical programs, such as nutrition assistance, while they are still in need. In this report, the RSC foolishly applauds the efforts of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to insert work requirements into anti-poverty programs. It seems the RSC missed the memo that Kansans are tired of Governor Brownback’s failed experiment.
6) Block-granting away results. The RSC’s recommendations stay remarkably true to the Ryan budget framework. They would turn effective anti-poverty programs, like SNAP, into ineffective block grants. As seen with other block grant programs, like TANF, some states regularly divert TANF resources for other projects. Additionally, in referring to the Social Services Block Grant as a slush fund in their budget, House Republicans suggest that block grants are a first step toward slashing funding.
Overall, the RSC’s recommendations provide nothing more than a roadmap to disinvestment in proven anti-poverty programs. Far from being a War on Poverty, it’s a War on the Poor. It’s past time for the RSC and the GOP to abandon this disinvestment – which, in turn, will justify future tax cuts for the top while telling families in poverty: “you’re on your own.” Republicans and Democrats need to come together and advance real policy solutions that create jobs that pay well, strengthen the safety net for struggling families, and build pathways out of poverty into the middle class.