Spotlight Exclusives

A Closer Look at Paul Ryan۪s Anti-Poverty Plan

Spotlight Team Spotlight Team, posted on


Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has devoted significant attention to poverty issues in recent months. Last week, the congressman went a step farther,unveiling a plan to reform the country’s social safety net.

The cost-neutral policy package a contrast to Ryan budget proposals concerning the safety net, which reduced spending have received significant praise as well as pushback.

At the center of Ryan۪s proposals is the new Opportunity Grant, a pilot program that would allow states to consolidate funding from numerous federal programs into one block grant they could use to experiment with new approaches to poverty prevention and alleviation. Stateswould need to monitor the progress of their programs and evaluate the results.

“The needs of poor families vary along many dimensions, and they are different in Brooklyn than in the Mississippi Delta,” conservative journalist Reihan Salam wrote, praising Ryan۪s proposed reforms. “By granting states more flexibility, and allowing them to partner with a wide range of organizations that specialize in serving the poor, the Opportunity Grant program will harness the creativity and intelligence of the people closest to the problem.”

However, many on the left are skeptical. Jared Bernstein worried that block-grants will prevent safety net programs from expanding to meet need during recessions. He argued the major problem isn’t that anti-poverty programs are ineffective, but that low-income individuals lack meaningful employment opportunities. “While Ryan has made some advances here what’s being served up is the wrong answer to the wrong question,” Bernstein concluded.

Beyond the Opportunity Grant, though, are several issues that broadly liberals and conservatives are more likely to agree on.

First, Ryan proposes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers. Expanding tax credits for this group has become an increasing priority for policymakers and researchers. Both President Obama and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have also introduced EITC reform proposals related to childless workers, and Isabel Sawhill and Quentin Karpilow of the Brookings Institution explained their own plan in a June Spotlight commentary. Ryan’s and the White House’s proposals are nearly identical the main differences are in proposed ways to pay for the expanded tax credits.

Second, Ryan addresses the impact of mass incarceration on low-income individuals and communities. His plan endorsesthe Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill that reduces mandatory minimum sentences forcertain nonviolent drug crimes. As a recent Out of the Spotlight blog post highlights,sentencing reform has strong bipartisan support, with the Smarter Sentencing Act receiving significant praise from both progressive and conservative organizations.

It۪s too early to tell what will emerge from these proposals, but what is certain is that Ryan wants to be a key part of the country’s poverty debates.  Be sure to follow Spotlight as we continue to monitor these issues in the months ahead.

Posted by Luke
Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

« Back to Spotlight Exclusives