Two weeks ago Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a report criticizing federal anti-poverty programs and the many who they serve. Rather than focus on securing equality of opportunity for the millions of Americans who rely on these programs for their basic needs, Rep. Ryan argues the government operates a “poverty trap” and excoriates generations of supposedly work-averse city dwellers.
Across the country, these programs help put food on family and school tables, provide basic healthcare needs, reduce infant mortality, and educate our neediest. They also house the homeless, care for our veterans, and lift the long-term unemployed out of poverty.
And they do this to an extraordinarily successful degree. Many of these programs are noted for keeping the jobless and elderly in their homes, improving academic performance and reducing malnutrition in students, and initiating effective housing efforts for HIV/AIDS patients. The Ryan report itself called one of the best ways to help cash-strapped taxpayers, the Earned Income Tax Credit, “an effective tool for encouraging and rewarding work among lower-income individuals, particularly single mothers.”
In the face of a body of evidence to the contrary, Rep. Ryan uses misleading evidence and cherry-picked statistics to bolster his claim that poverty is a result of nothing more than laziness. Throughout, he calls for attaching stringent work requirements to these programs, ignoring that they are already a critical part of much of the social safety net. And those programs without a work requirement, like the Child Care and Development Fund, help families secure the very opportunities that would lift them out of poverty.
This is the kind of talk we’ve come to expect from the Tea Party ideologues who make up the House GOP. But Rep. Ryan is a leader in the Republican Party, responsible in part for averting a second Tea Party-led government shutdown this winter. He chairs the powerful House Budget Committee and was the most recent Republican nominee for Vice President.
Instead of using taxpayer money to pillory struggling Americans with mean-spirited reports like this, House Republicans need to focus on improving our anti-poverty programs. Rep. Ryan’s attack on the social safety net adds nothing to the body of academic research on efforts to alleviate poverty in this country. It only serves to provide political cover and ideological justification for his soon to be released budget. Past Ryan budgets have derived 60-67 percent of their cuts from programs impacting middle- to low-income people. This report prepares us to expect more of the same. It’s time for Party leaders like Rep. Ryan to tone down the spiteful rhetoric like this and propose a realistic budget that prioritizes the equality of opportunity for all.
Americans across the country are struggling to pay for groceries, heat their homes, stay healthy, and keep a roof over their heads. They need a social safety net that will help us grow the middle class, not Mr. Ryan’s unrealistic proposals that freeze them out of opportunity.