After traveling around the country for the last year to better understand what works to combat poverty, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan now has a “discussion draft” with the key ideas he thinks can help the poorest Americans get ahead, and where the federal government has a role.
“Enough with politics, let’s talk solutions,” he declared, presenting a set of policy reforms that could serve as a governing agenda should the Republicans gain the majority in the U.S. Senate in November. Ryan’s plan may also be a road map for Republican presidential candidates in 2016 as they seek to present themselves as a party that does care about the least among us.
“He knows that great leaders fight for everyone no matter how they vote,” AEI president Arthur Brooks said when introducing Ryan to an audience Thursday morning packed with fresh-faced interns in Washington for the summer.
Ryan is calling for a pilot program of “Opportunity Grants” that would consolidate 11 federal programs into one stream of funding to states. Food stamps, cash welfare payments, housing assistance and a host of other benefits would be packaged together, and a state that chooses to participate would get the same amount of money, but would have flexibility in choosing how it is allocated.
AEI’s Robert Doar, moderating a panel immediately after Ryan’s talk, raised a red light about food stamps being part of the package. The long standing program has become a lightning rod on Capitol Hill, and any attempts to let states tamper with allocating food stamp money is likely to be fiercely resisted by Democrats. But giving states more flexibility to tailor benefits to individual needs is a central part of Ryan’s reform agenda.
Two other scholars, Ron Haskins from Brookings and Stuart Butler with Heritage, used the term “block grants” interchangeably with Ryan’s opportunity grants. Block grants have long been a cherished GOP idea, and Ryan insisted that what he’s offering is different from “a garden variety block grant where you cut a check and call it a day.” He envisions local groups working on the front lines, from Catholic Charities to America Works, delivering customized services with a neutral third party evaluating results.
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