(CNSNews.com) - House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) outlined his anti-poverty program Thursday, saying a healthy economy includes a strong safety net for the poor and the needy.
In a nutshell, he wants the federal government to be the money-giver, while states and charities would be the service-deliverers, providing customized aid to individuals in one-on-one settings. He said the plan would be budget-neutral: "The state would get the same amount of money as they would under current law, not a penny less."
Ryan's plan would consolidate federal aid into one stream of funding to participating states, who would submit a plan on how to spend that taxpayer money: "The idea would be, let states try different ways of providing aid, and then test the results."
More specifically, Ryan would divert funding for eleven different federal programs -- including food stamps, housing assistance, child care, and cash welfare -- into "opportunity grants" for needy people.
"In other words, families in need would have a choice," he told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. "There wouldn't just be a federal agency or a state agency. Instead, they could choose from a list of certified providers. We're talking nonprofits like Catholic Charities, for-profits like America Works, or even community groups that are unique to your neighborhood. These groups would work with people one on one and provide a personalized aid through case management.
"Think of it this way," Ryan continued. "Right now, you've got to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs, each with all their different rules. Under the opportunity grant, you could go to one office and you go to work with one person for all of your needs. That person would give you financial assistance and would also act as a personal resource."
Ryan said the goal in combining the funding is to "design an aid package that is necessary for this person's particular needs. Maybe she needs more for transportation or maybe she needs more for child care. Right now, you have these structured programs that don't recognize her unique problems and her unique needs -- so that your case manager can actually adjust the benefit."
To further illustrate, Ryan used the example of "Andrea," a 24-year-old mother of two toddlers whose husband has deserted her. With only a high school education and a two years of retail experience behind her, Andrea has been forced to move in with her parents, who live in a two-bedroom mobile home. She is looking for work but doesn't have a car and can't afford child care:
"Here's how it would work under this plan," Ryan said. "Andrea would go to a local service provider. She would sit down with her case manager and develop an opportunity plan. That plan would pinpoint her strengths, her opportunities for growth, her short-, medium- and long-term goals. The two of them would sign a contract. Andrea would meet specific benchmarks for success. She'd establish a timeline for meeting them, consequences for missing them and rewards for exceeding them.
"Andrea's short-term goal is to find a job, but her long-term goal is to find the right job, to become a teacher. She might find a job in retail to pay the bills. Meanwhile, her case manager would help pay for transportation and child care so that she could take classes at night. Over time, Andrea could go to school, get her certification and find a teaching job. The point is, with someone involved and there to help coordinate her aid, Andrea would not just find a job, she would start a career."
Ryan said a "neutral third party" would keep tabs on each service provider. Those who come up short would be barred from participating in the program.
Right now, Ryan noted, taxpayers spend $800 billion each year on 92 programs at the federal level just to fight poverty -- "yet we have the highest poverty rate in a generation. Deep poverty is near record highs."
He said his plan is just a draft -- a discussion starter.
"In short, we are re-conceiving the federal government's role here," Ryan said. "I think a lot of the problems we have is the federal government is displacing and crowding out and competing with private charity in many ways. And the purpose of this is to stop that competition and respect the good works that are being done by people on the ground, the experimentation that's occurring."
Ryan on Thursday also endorsed a doubling of the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers, saying the EITC is one of the federal welfare programs that "has really shown results."
"So I'd roughly double the maximum credit for childless workers to $1,000, and I would lower the minimum eligibility from 25 to 21 years old. This is similar to what the president has proposed, but with one big difference. I wouldn't raise taxes. I would pay for it by eliminating ineffective programs and corporate welfare, like subsidies to energy companies. My thinking basically is stop the programs that don't work and support the programs that do."
He also called for college accreditation reform, which would "bring competition to the college cartels" and lower tuition inflation.
He wants "common sense criminal justice reform," including changes in sentencing guidelines.
And he also called for a reduction in bureaucratic red tape: "So I would propose a very simple rule for future regulations. If you are a federal agency and you want a regulation that would unduly burden low-income families, you've got to go to Congress. If they want it, they have to fight for it and they have to do so on the record. It's your government and you deserve a voice and a vote."