With comments straight out of President Reagan's "welfare queens" playbook, Paul Ryan is attempting to justify his proposed budgets cuts to various programs that help the poor, claiming the safety net "provides a powerful disincentive to get ahead." Never mind that since the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Welfare Reform Act, aka, "welfare reform," most of the remaining income assistance programs are both means-tested and work-based.
Perhaps most troubling are proposed cuts to the EITC and CTC, which counter to Ryan's argument, actually reward work. According to the CBPP report, "In 2011, these EITC and CTC improvements lifted 1.5 million people in working families, including 800,000 children, out of poverty." But while the "fiscal cliff" deal early this year extended important improvements to the EITC and the CTC through 2017, the Ryan budget would not only ditch this increased assistance to the working poor, but include still unspecified cuts in the "income security function," which includes the refundable credits.
Education isn't spared either. As if the barriers to paying for higher education weren't high enough, the maximum Pell award would be frozen for ten years under Ryan's budget without any adjustment for inflation or rising tuition costs. Large additional cuts in program eligibility or award levels would almost certainly be needed to shrink program expenditures to the reduced levels of funding that would be available.
As for SNAP and Medicaid, I have previously covered just how much the Ryan Budget would hurt these programs and poor families. Ironically, though, Ryan is trying to justify block granting those two programs by pointing to TANF's supposed sucess story with this system, noting how "Child poverty in single-female-headed households fell from 55 to 39 percent by 2001, which was the largest ten-year decline in poverty among such children since the 1960s."
This of course was in the pre-recession boom years between 1996 and 2001, a very different economic climate from now. Ryan exaggerates the success rate of TANF, and its ability to serve as an example for future funding schemes for SNAP and Medicaid. According to a new study by the Center for Law and Social Policy, "While the number of families receiving cash assistance from TANF rose somewhat during the recession, it did not climb nearly as much as the number of families who might have benefited from such help."
CLASP's report notes the block grant system and limits have produced extremely unequal results across states. SNAP's non-block granted funding structure is also part of the reason that many welfare reform detractor's nightmare scenarios didn't play out. SNAP has served as a safety net for those who have no other resources. In states that are stingier with alloted TANF grants, SNAP is increasingly the last near-cash benefit program available to the poorest Americans.
Medicaid would not fair much better. A block grant system would not help it keep up with rising health care costs. Despite rising costs for healthcare in public and private programs alike, Medicaid has been far more effective in controlling costs than most insurance providers.