Paul Ryan’s Anti-Poverty Plan Would Have Devastating Impact in Washington State
Elena Hernandez & Lori Pfingst -House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty proposal doesn’t reflect reality and would have damaging effects for Washington state’s low income children and families. On Tuesday, we highlighted data from the 2014 KIDS COUNT Databook demonstrating that kids in our state continue to see declines in economic well-being, making this new proposal all the more concerning.
Under Chairman Ryan’s proposal, all federal safety net programs (including rental assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)) would be rolled into a single block grant provided to the states, misleadingly called an “Opportunity Grant.” This fixed funding structure would prevent safety net programs from being able to respond to increases in need.
History has shown that block grants, which provide a fixed amount of funding, regardless of changes in need, stifle the ability of safety net programs to achieve their main goal of mitigating the impact of economic hardship on children and families.
The difference in how TANF, funded via a federal block grant, and SNAP, an entitlement program, responded during the recession is illustrative of the problem with Chairman Ryan’s proposal. The fixed funding structure of TANF was unable to respond to rising need in Washington state during the recession. The figure below illustrates that while poverty rates for children and families continued to climb following the recession, the proportion of low income and poor children receiving TANF declined. In 2008, for every 100 kids living at or below the poverty line, TANF provided support to nearly 40. By 2012, that number declined to just 28 out of 100 kids. In contrast, SNAP, with its more flexible funding structure, was able to react to increased demand during the recession (see figure below). In 2008, SNAP provided support for roughly 45 out of every 100 low income Washingtonians. The proportion increased to about 67 out of every 100 low income Washingtonians by 2012.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that Chairman Ryan’s proposal to combine all of the safety net programs into one block grant would pit these important programs against one another, leading to cuts for basic assistance programs that have historically performed well, like SNAP (read more here). According to CBPP, restructuring funding into block grants will lead to reduced federal funding over time as it becomes increasingly challenging to identify need within these programs. Our analysis of the 2014 KIDS COUNT Databook illustrated that kids and families in Washington continue to see declines in economic well-being. Paul Ryan’s plan would only serve to intensify these issues. In order to put our economy back on track, we need policies that reflect reality and tackle systemic poverty by ensuring meaningful pathways to opportunity.