Could Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan work?

Opportunity grants would change the federal government’s role by sending block grants to states

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled a new anti-poverty plan this week called Expanding Opportunity in America, which could fundamentally change the federal government’s role in combating poverty.

At the heart of the plan is what he calls opportunity grants. Funding from 11 federal programs like food stamps, housing assistance and welfare would be given directly to participating states in a lump sum.

Before states could receive their money, they would have to submit a plan to the federal government for approval. Then states would have to follow four strict conditions on spending the cash. People receiving aid must work if they are able. The money must go to multiple aid providers, such as local charities, not only the state welfare agency. There must be a third-party watchdog to monitor the programs. And funds may not be diverted to other state priorities, like building roads and bridges.

The idea would be to let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results ... In short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability. My thinking is, get rid of these bureaucratic formulas.

Rep. Paul Ryan

Democratic representatives on the House Budget Committee immediately criticized the plan, fearing it would allow an easier way to cut funding to individual programs.

In a press call on Thursday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said, “It’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

Ryan says that he is just trying to “start a conversation” and that this is only a discussion draft.

What are some criticisms of Ryan’s proposal?

Is there any truth to the idea of culture of poverty?

The proposal requires people to get jobs. Do the jobs exist?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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