A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ryan’s ‘reform’ plan would hurt many needy families

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July, 14, 15 or 16

Most people in the last couple of months were fed Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan stories like “Will he endorse Donald Trump?” or “How can he call Trump a racist and pledge to vote for him?” or “Look at the Speaker try to work around Democrats’ sit-in.”

Meanwhile, the 46-year-old Wisconsin Congressman has unleashed a series of proposals that make Trump look like Trumka (Richard, that is, the AFL-CIO president).

It started with a muffled bombshell in May that’s echoing through labor, Capitol Hill and the nation: his “A Better Way” anti-poverty initiative. The conservative re-boot packages recommendations from a task force of House Republicans and includes work requirements for recipients of government assistance, and cutting 18 food and housing programs.

“In several areas, the poverty document that they issued proposes positive steps to address poverty,” concedes an analysis of the plan by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “These are largely in areas of growing bipartisan support, such as reforming juvenile justice policies to reduce incarceration, making it easier for low-income families to use rental vouchers to move to low-poverty areas with better schools and job opportunities, and restoring low-income students’ ability to use Pell Grants in the summer so they can complete their education more quickly.”

Still, the overall 35-page plan and its potential consequences are disappointing, even frightening.

“In some cases where the plan provides more specificity, the proposals would likely do more harm than good,” the CBPP says, “risking increases in poverty and even homelessness among poor families with children.”

Speaker Ryan – tentatively set to chair this month’s Republican convention – criticizes helpful programs ranging from protecting retirement savers from financial advisers’ conflicts of interest to school-lunch nutrition standards (but he ignores the minimum wage).

“Most fundamentally,” the CBPP’s Robert Greenstein says, “the plan ignores the ‘elephant in the room’ — House Republican budget policy. The budget plan that the House Budget Committee’s GOP majority approved in March would cut programs for low- and moderate-income Americans by a startling $3.7 trillion over 10 years — targeting those programs for 62 percent of the plan’s budget cuts.”

“A Better Way” seems to call for extending the type of rigid, often unrealistic work requirements that characterize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program.

“In TANF, these requirements have proven problematic for many of the poorest parents with the most serious barriers to employment, which can include physical and mental-health problems and very limited skills or capacity,” Greenstein says.

Ryan’s plan also seems to apply that approach to low-income housing programs by placing their tenants into the TANF work-program system (apparently with no new TANF resources).

“As a result, housing recipients would likely get few useful employment services, face the same type of often inappropriate work strictures as those found widely in TANF, and be sanctioned if they didn’t comply with requirements often ill-suited for them,” Greenstein says.

Violations usually mean shutting off government assistance.

“House leaders justify this approach to work programs and work requirements by claiming that research shows it’s the most effective way to move recipients to work,” Greenstein says, “but the report misrepresents the research. It notes the results only from the first two years of the work programs, leaving out the more important long-term results.”

Besides doomed-to-fail work mandates, “A Better Way” would weaken federal school meal nutrition standards and reduce access to free school meals for low-income students. The CBPP list three key problems with Ryan’s rationale – the failure of existing poverty programs:

* It repeats the discredited claim that the United States has spent trillions of dollars on anti-poverty programs with little or no impact on poverty;

* It ignores analysts, progressive and conservative, who reject such claims (as a bipartisan panel of witnesses testified at a 2014 House Budget Committee hearing – chaired by Ryan); and

* More complete data tell a different story: Under the principal historical comparison that uses a broader measure of poverty, the poverty rate has fallen by two-fifths since the late 1960s — from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2014. So safety-net programs now lift about 36 million people above the poverty line each year.

Actually, “A Better Way” tries to be comprehensive – its web site links drastic reforms not just concerning poverty, but the economy, national security, tax reform, health care and even the Constitution.
For regular Americans, Ryan’s ideas to roll back regulations also include gutting labor and consumer rules, and letting states take over other protections.

“A Better Way”? No way.
:[PICTURED" Ryan photo from New Hampshire Labor News/]

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