Speaker Ryan Proposes Changes to Federal Programs, State Role in New Poverty Plan

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced on June 5 the release of a task force report outlining initiatives aimed at mitigating poverty, similar to plans the Speaker has released previously

The task force report calls for increased consolidation of programs that offer direct aid to states in exchange for states being held accountable for ensuring that individuals receiving financial assistance are required to find jobs or face the potential loss of benefits.

The report favorably cited the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Welfare) reform which established work requirements for state welfare recipients in exchange for a block grant of funds to the states, and suggested more strongly trying reauthorization of federal temporary assistance programs to requirements that states provide job training assistance and cut off funds for noncompliance.

The report focused on creating incentives for increased coordination between different types of assistance programs by tying child support assistance to workforce development and tying housing benefits to work requirements. Additionally, the report advocated varying the rate at which the federal government matches state spending to support programs that coordinate job training and workforce development while reducing aid to long-time aid recipients.

While supporting increased state flexibility in certain areas, the report also advocates stricter controls on state autonomy where they are perceived to have fallen short. Absent a new infusion of funds to help create incentives for better anti-poverty program coordination — requiring states to taper off funding for aid recipients — risks becoming wholly punitive, both for state governments trying to manage anti-poverty programs and for the aid recipients themselves.

The report also proposes to align HUD rental assistance with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, more commonly known as welfare) and require recipients to meet with TANF case workers, presumably a cost that would be taken on by states.

Additionally, the report aims to expand portability of vouchers, though it acknowledges that because of how the voucher system was created, portability has significant negative impacts on Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). To deal with this, the plan suggests that "the fragmented system of over 3,000 PHAs ... should be reformed" and encourages a shift "towards new housing delivery models that harness the abilities of non-profits and other cost-effective service providers." However, the report lacks specific detail on these reforms and delivery models.

The report is similar to several past proposals issued by Speaker Ryan in his former capacity as chair of both the Budget and the Ways and Means Committees. It is seen as a largely political document aimed at shaping the GO's policy platform for the 2016 election. However, depending on the outcome of the election, these proposals could impact legislation in future years.

Democrats lambasted the plan immediately, including a statement from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.): "Today, Republicans have unveiled a fake poverty program that shows, yet again, they are out of touch with the realities of poverty in America. ... But the American people know the truth. The GOP could care less about ending poverty in America."

About the Authors

Tess Hembree is policy manager for Advocacy Associates. Jeff Bates is APA's state government affairs associate.

June 13, 2016

By Tess Hembree, Jeffrey Bates