Ryan: Customization key to fight poverty
MSNBC - The Daily Rundown
Chuck Todd: Joining me now, Wisconsin Republican and Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan. Good morning to you sir.
Paul Ryan: Good morning Chuck.
Chuck Todd: Give me an idea of what you think would be the ideal way a state might use your idea, your plan here, to create an anti-poverty program that would work.
Paul Ryan: The ideal way would be similar to how Catholic Charities does it in states like Wisconsin, but without federal assistance. There are already service providers out there—public, private, not-for-profit, charities, or for-profit—that do a very good job of providing customized case management and tailoring benefits to a certain need of a particular person. Here’s the problem Chuck. Poverty is a very complex problem. Each person has a different unique circumstance and need yet the federal government treats it all the same. The vision is to customize a person’s need to focus on getting them from where they are to where they want to be, which is a good job and a good career. By having local casework management, a person working with this individual customizes the aid to meet their need, so that they can get their life back on track. Maybe this person needs healthcare and transportation assistance or maybe they need more skills training and education. Customizing helps them get with their plan and get their life back on track. The problem, Chuck, it that our safety net isn’t really working the way it should be. We have all these programs, and all these rules and regulations that are stovepipes of formulaic, fragmented programs that don’t make a lot of sense. If the status quo was actually working, I would be supporting it, but it’s not. We have the highest poverty rates in a generation, yet we are spending unprecedented dollars on these programs. Let’s take those dollars and spend them more effectively to actually focus on results, outcomes, getting people out of poverty, and customizing benefits to each person’s particular needs.
Chuck Todd: How much do you think the increase in poverty is simply the great recession? Are we looking at this in a moment in time and saying this is a huge rise now but will subside on its own regardless of what the federal government does?
Paul Ryan: No, I think there is some cyclicality to it like you just described. It’s actually pretty sticky. These rates have been stubbornly high for too long and there are unique circumstances in each person’s life, which irrespective of the recession, have propped up high poverty rates. I don’t think that this is simply because of the recession. I do believe that these 20th century programs, written at a time when the government had a one size fits all notion, are ineffective for the 21st century at a time when we see great success stories out there. The point is Chuck, I have been traveling the country for the past the last year and half, and there are fantastic things happening out there. We should empower those good works, listen to the boots on the ground, and help mobile service providers—people who actually know the people in poverty, know where the jobs are, and know how to get them on their feet and back to work again. We need to work with them, and not against them or displace them, which is unfortunately one of the inadvertent results of today’s federal poverty programs.
Chuck Todd: Obviously the concern with some Democrats on this plan, particularly of empowering the states, is that not every state will be as compassionate as you are. How do you make sure that this is not the case? You look at some of these states where they have control to cut benefits and the poverty level has grown.
Paul Ryan: Yes, this isn’t your generic block grant. This is very different. It is a collection of funding streams to go to a specific person, but there are requirements. First, the federal government has to approve the plan to make sure the state has an effective plan in place to get these dollars and services to the person in need and not spend the money on something else.
Chuck Todd: Who would approve that plan? Would it be a part of HHS or part of another agency?
Paul Ryan: No, it would be an existing agency here in the federal government. It is something we can figure out later, but probably HHS. Again, those particular details are clearly something we can get to later.
Chuck Todd: Ok.
Paul Ryan: Let me get to the point Chuck. You have to target these people in need, and it has to meet these requirements. The other thing is that we need to measure. We don’t really measure whether the programs today are working or not. We need to have third party measurement so that we don’t have a service provider or the government cooking the books. We need objective measurements to see what works, so we can learn lessons on how to improve moving forward. And I think that is the outcome based policy making that we need to get to these days which we are not doing.
Chuck Todd: That’s interesting. Your poverty plan, numbers wise, conflicts with your budget plan. In your budget plan, you call for some cuts in certain anti-poverty programs, including food stamps. However, you’re not calling for that here—you’re actually calling for an expansion of the earned income tax credit. Does this mean you would change your budget proposal to reflect your new poverty plan?
Paul Ryan: I didn’t want to get into a debate over the funding levels of the status quo. We could keep doing that over and over again. I want to talk about how to reform the status quo. This program could occur under any funding level, I just didn’t want to get into this debate about how much money we spend on XYZ existing programs. I want to focus on how we can change these government programs and how we can reform the status quo.
Chuck Todd: So we should ignore your budget proposal in some of these programs.
Paul Ryan: No Chuck, what I am trying to tell you is to not focus on dollars and cents and the status quo. Let’s focus on reforming these programs so that they work more effectively, and then we can decide what level of funding is appropriate. On the earned income tax credit, I am proposing specific spending cuts to pay for an expansion of the program. The reason I think we should expand the earned income tax credit is because I think it is a successful program. Looking at all the federal government does in the poverty space, the EITC is pretty effective because it brings people into the workforce. Of all the people who are less likely to be in the workforce, 20% of childless adults between age 21-25 aren’t working or aren’t even in school, so this is a population that we want to get into the workforce and raising the EITC raises the incentives for people to work, and helps bring them into the workforce.
Chuck Todd: Before I let you go, a lot of chatter about Congressional gridlock. One specific item that seems to be on the Republican House agenda these days is the lawsuit against the President. Is this a productive thing for House Republicans to be focused on in an election year?
Paul Ryan: We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can juggle a lot of bills. We’re working on border security, foreign policy, appropriations, and many things at one time. It is not as if this just displaces action on other items. We are very concerned about the lawlessness of the administration exceeding the executive branch’s authority. The traditional constitutional way would be for Congress to exercise its power through the power of the purse. Unfortunately, the Senate is not interested in maintaining the prerogatives and the authority of the legislative branch, and so that’s why the Speaker feels compelled to do this.
Chuck Todd: And you support the Speaker in this?
Paul Ryan: I will vote for it.
Chuck Todd: Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, the 2012 Vice Presidential Nominee, a fascinating new plan that you put out there. We are going to get a Democratic response from Chris Van Hollen after the break. Thank you sir.
Paul Ryan: Thank you.