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Paul Ryan proposes merging federal poverty programs

Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee , unveils his plan to keep social safety net funding at the same levels but change the way it is used. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has laid out plans to fight poverty by merging eleven federal programs into a single grant. In a packed speech at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday, Ryan outlined the “opportunity grant”, a pilot program which would allow individual states to apply for funding, create their own anti-poverty programs and spend money as they see fit.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget committee and the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, has spent the last year traveling across the country to gain insights into poverty. He has concluded that a decentralized approach is required and that Washington would be monitoring states instead of allocating the money. “In short, we’re preconceiving the federal government’s role,” he said. “In effect, the state would say, ‘Give us some space, and we can figure this out’.”

In his speech, Ryan said he believes that the federal government should be the "rearguard", protecting the supply lines, while people on the ground in the states are the "vanguard." These people need to fight poverty on the front line and "Washington should follow their lead," he said.

Under Ryan’s proposals to reform the safety net, the state applying for the opportunity grant (which is voluntary) would have to offer clear accountability for where the money is being spent and frequent evaluations of whether the program is succeeding. “We would not expand the program until all the evidence was in. The point is, don’t just pass a law and hope for the best. If you've got an idea, let’s try it,” he said.

The programs which would contribute the most to the opportunity grant include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Child Care and Development Fund and Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds. The other programs include the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV), Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance Payments, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Community Development Block Grant and WIA Dislocated Workers.

As well as his opportunity grant proposals, Ryan backs other proposals from his colleagues to tackle poverty — including doubling the maximum childless workers credit to $1,005 and lowering the minimum eligibility age to 21. Ryan also supports expanding access to education through accreditation reform, revamping job-training programs and “commonsense criminal justice reform” to give people an opportunity for a second chance.

Ryan is keen to put forward his proposals as bipartisan solutions, not just from the GOP. “When I went to Milwaukee or Denver or Indianapolis, nobody asked me what party I belonged to. They welcomed anybody who was willing to listen and learn,” he said.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.

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