At least 92 U.S. anti-poverty programs that cost a combined $799 billion in the 2012 fiscal year form a “complex web” that often contributes to keeping people poor, according to a report from the House Budget Committee.
Many federal welfare programs are means-tested, so increasing earnings can decrease benefits. That “effectively discourages” some poor families from trying to make more money, according to the report.
“For too long, we have measured compassion by how much we spend instead of how many people get out of poverty,” House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said in a statement. “We need to take a hard look at what the federal government is doing and ask, ‘Is this working?’”
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have made income inequality a centerpiece of their 2014 campaign, with proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25 and extend long-term unemployment benefits. Obama is scheduled to release his budget request tomorrow.
The effort by Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, is in part an effort to take the issue back.
Republicans, looking ahead to the congressional elections in November and a 2016 presidential campaign, are seeking to move beyond an image of indifference to the poor. Republican 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign was damaged by his comment that “47 percent” of Americans see themselves as “victims” and depend on the government.
Ryan will spell out an alternative plan in his budget expected later this month.
Lawmakers have already agreed on spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Discretionary spending will rise to $1.014 trillion from $1.012 trillion under a deal agreed by Ryan and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray and signed into law by Obama.
“This report will help start the conversation,” Ryan said. “It shows that some programs work; others don’t. And for many of them, we just don’t know.”
“Clearly, we can do better,” he said.
Ryan said in January he would give the “war on poverty” declared by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago a failing grade. “We need to make sure it always pays to work,” he said in January, previewing the theme he planned to continue in his budget. “We’ve got to stop quarantining the poor,” he said.