Rhetoric Versus Real Impact of Proposals to Reduce Poverty

Meredith Dodson, RESULTS Director of US Poverty Campaigns
June 07, 2016

Too often the rhetoric about poverty in America focuses on the “failure” of anti-poverty programs, despite evidence that anti-poverty programs reduce poverty by about half. Just last week, RESULTS Experts on Poverty powerfully shared how programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program), impact their lives. Of course, there is more to be done – we must push for ending poverty to be a top political priority, with specific proposals to strengthen anti-poverty programs.

Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Task Force on Poverty released its recommendations. At first analysis, the proposals from House Speaker Ryan would by and large leave millions of Americans worse off. The recommendations focus on:   

  • requiring safety net program participants to work,
  • giving states flexibility and streamlining anti-poverty programs,
  • changing policies that “trap” people into poverty while “getting the incentives right” to move people away from participating in safety net programs, and
  • measuring results.

While there were not a tremendous amount of detail in the Task Force proposals, as we detail in our U.S. Poverty Campaigns Background Packet and May Action Sheet, “flexibility” and “streamlining” could be a signal of future efforts to shift oversight of SNAP and other key programs to the states, also known as “block grants” (lump sum payments to states). As we have discussed previously, this could be devastating for millions of struggling Americans who need SNAP to put food on the table. The focus on work requirements, especially with limited support for education and job training, is also extremely dangerous -- for how devastating this can be for Americans living in deep poverty who do not have access to well-paying jobs or job training, see our blogpost on thousands of Americans losing SNAP this year. In addition, many anti-poverty advocates have pointed out the stark contrast between House Republican leaders rhetoric versus their “budget priorities, however, are unmistakable – they would cut programs for low- and modest-income people dramatically.”

At a simultaneous event as the release of the Ryan Poverty Task Force, RESULTS 2016 International Conference Speaker Senator Sherrod Brown made a powerful case for building on the success of efforts to save key tax provisions last year to expand the EITC for workers without children. Watch his remarks, along with speeches by Representatives Hoyer, DeLauro, and Moore (a 2015 RESULTS conference speaker) here.  In the months and years ahead, we will push policymakers to make ending poverty a top priority with policies that will make a real difference.  

TAKE ACTION: Whether or not you are coming to DC for RESULTS International Conference, schedule meetings with members of Congress and take time to write letters to members of Congress about protecting programs that lift and keep people out of poverty. The goal is have your letters delivered in Washington, DC at this month’s RESULTS International Conference and at in-dist. We also urge you to use to urge your friends and family to do the same. Our June Action will feature two different sets of talking points you can use in your letters:

  • one side will focus on creating economic mobility by ensuring no American is taxed into poverty, and policies that help us begin to address wealth inequality and the racial wealth gap by building on tax credits for low-income Americans and
  • the other side will focus on protecting and strengthening SNAP, given the threats to the program’s structure posed by the Ryan Task Force recommendations.

Note: while RESULTS volunteers did a great job of generating media to shape the Poverty Task Force -- with 33 media pieces in local papers across the country over the past two months -- we are holding off on a full press to get media attention on the Poverty Task Force report now that it is out, in order to not fuel the rhetoric in the proposals.