Monday, June 13, 2016

So, What's the Deal with Speaker Paul Ryan's Anti-Poverty Plan?

Image from NETWORK
This is a classic case of a half-empty glass versus a half-full glass. Regardless, the glass needs to be full, which it clearly is not. (And perhaps it's going from half full to a quarter full).

I'm speaking about the blueprint that Speaker Paul Ryan released on June 7, 2016. The plan, entitled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty, has a few nuggets of good news (which is why the glass is half full).

A willingness to dialogue
First, the good news. (Don't we all want to hear the good news first)?  A feature of the plan is that it opens the door to dialogue, launching a bipartisan discussion on hunger and poverty and the policies required to end them.

Secondly, the proposal from the leader of the House of Representatives seems to run counter to a piece of legislation that was introduced in the House during the current session, H.R. 5003. This initiative would block grant school meals and and make it more difficult for tens of thousands, if not millions, of children to access meals at school and during the summer months.

Speaker Ryan's plan promises that none of the important nutrition programs are going to be block-granted, so that's huge!

“Bread for the World applauds Speaker Ryan for giving poverty the attention it deserves and offering a plan to address it,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “We have disagreements with some of the proposals. But we are pleased that the plan doesn’t propose to cut or block-grant anti-poverty programs, and we welcome the emphasis on making programs as effective as possible.”  Here is Bread for the World's full statement

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offered similar comments."As Christians, loving God and loving our neighbors includes commitment to any who suffer from hunger or poverty," said the Rev. Amy Reumann, ELCA Director for Advocacy. "We are pleased that the plan doesn't propose to cut or institute block-grants for anti-poverty programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and that it focuses on areas of importance to ELCA hunger work, including housing, childhood education and criminal justice reform as part of the larger picture." Read full statement in the ELCA Advocacy Blog

Beckmann, Reumann and other Christian leaders, who form the core of the Circle of Protection, have repeatedly met with Ryan and his staff. They recently wrote to members of the task force about what they hoped to see – and not see – in the Republican poverty plan. Read the letter
Okay, that's the good news.

The downside
The bad news deals with the actual proposals that Speaker Ryan put forth in his plan. Bread notes that the Republican plan stresses work without offering any solution to the fact that many people cannot find jobs. The plan fails to address the disparate impact of poverty on people of color and the racial bias that underlies this reality. The Republican plan also fails to mention global hunger and poverty, even though Republicans and Democrats have worked together on some global poverty issues.

Others offer a harsher assessment. "House Speaker Paul Ryan’s poverty plan ignores the realities of the struggles of millions of individuals and families across the country who need federal entitlement programs to make ends meet," said said the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). "By diminishing these crucial supports, the Ryan proposal actually would make poverty in America far worse," 

"To be clear, the Ryan proposal is not just about drastic cuts to proven programs; it’s also about dismantling the stable and effective structure of our nation’s safety net," added FRAC.  "It is downright dangerous. It is dangerous because, by abandoning the proven strengths of the key parts of the nation’s nutrition safety net, it will increase hunger and poverty, harm health and learning, and pull resources out of low-income communities."  Read FRAC's full statement

Image from the NETWORK blog
NETWORK Lobby (and specifically Sister Simone Campbell) also raised objections to many of the elements in the plan.

In response, NETWORK released a list of 10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now, but yet again, Speaker Ryan’s plan falls short.

Sister Simone Campbell suggests the resounding disinterest in the Speaker’s plan stems from the fact that this is D+ work at best. To illustrate the point – graphically, and with a little bit of sassy Sister-Spirit – Sister Simone offers this annotated, graded copy of the plan’s summary (see the illustration on the top of this blog post). For a clearer view, download the PDF

In Summary
Okay, let's summarize.  Bipartisan approach and dialogue. Good.  Taking block grants off the table. Also good.  Emphasis on job creation. Also good.  Emphasis on job creation in an environment of few jobs. Not good.  Reduced funding for crucial programs. Terrible.

On balance, the speaker's intentions are good. There was a time when he was speaking about simply making the cuts and not engaging in dialogue. But there is an old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Perhaps our programs need a lot of tweaking, but please don't gut them in the name of making assistance more streamlined.  The next question is whether the bipartisan House Hunger Caucus is going to engage in this discussion.  I hope so.

“We believe we can end hunger and extreme poverty in our country and around the world if our leaders make it a higher priority," said Beckmann. "We look forward to seeing the Democrats’ anti-poverty plan, and to having a real debate about solutions.”

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