Spotlight Exclusives

Ryan Reignites Poverty Debate

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House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled a long-touted anti-poverty plan Tuesday, contending that federal food, housing, and unemployment programs should have stricter work requirements and more flexibility for state governments.

“The problem we have had in government is that for too long we think the way to fight poverty is to treat its symptoms,” Ryan said at an event held in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood. “And when we treat the symptoms of poverty, we perpetuate poverty.”

“We need to go at the root causes of poverty to break the cycle of poverty and we should measure success based on results, outcomes,” Ryan said.

The anti-poverty plan is part of a larger, six-part policy agenda that Ryan and his Republican leadership team are beginning to unveil.

Among the plan’s key points:

  • Consolidating or streamlining 18 federal food-assistance programs and myriad housing programs, such as the Rural Housing Service rental assistance program and HUD’s Housing Choice voucher program.
  • Streamlining federal funding for at-risk youths and for 45 separate early childhood programs and giving states and local governments more flexibility to address their residents’ needs.
  • The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would be renewed but restructured to put more pressure on recipients to find jobs.
  • The unemployment insurance program would be overhauled, allowing states more leeway in helping people find work.
  • In the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, “work-capable” adults would have to demonstrate they are either working or seeking a job.
  • The Pell Grant system would be changed to allow students to use grants year-round while adding reforms to make it easier for students to pay back loans.

Ryan insisted that putative GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump would be stronger on anti-poverty issues than the Democratic nominee, though he criticized Trump’s recent statements about a federal judge’s Mexican heritage.

“Do I believe that Hillary Clinton is going to be the answer to solving these problems? I do not,” Ryan said. “I believe we have more common ground (with Trump) on the policy issues of the day and more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than we do with her.”

Conservatives in the poverty policy field generally applauded Ryan. Writing in Forbes, Scott Winship, the Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research., called the proposal “impressively thoughtful and wide-ranging.” Wrote Winship: “It is clearer than ever that the freshest thinking around antipoverty policy today comes from conservatives.”

Democrats in Congress and a number of progressive anti-poverty organizations were not enthusiastic about the new plan.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic Whip, said Ryan’s proposals were mostly rhetorical. “Ryan has rhetoric. It is good rhetoric. He sells it well,” Hoyer said during a forum at the Center for American Progress, which released its own poverty plan on Tuesday.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein said the details of the plan were not in sync with the larger GOP budget outline. “The House Republicans’ new poverty plan is silent on the discrepancy between its call to fight poverty and the House GOP’s own budget priorities. Those budget priorities, however, are unmistakable – they would cut programs for low- and modest-income people dramatically.”

The Spotlight Team


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

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