Social mobility is a “key tenet of the American Dream” yet relative upward mobility has been stagnant, says Rep. Paul Ryan in his new 73-page proposal for reforming federal anti-poverty programs. Ryan acknowledges that there are many individual and social factors that affect upward mobility (e.g., family structure) but adds that “public policy is still a factor, and government has a role to play in providing a safety net and expanding opportunity for all.”
Expanding Opportunity in America includes recommendations for reform in reform five areas: the Earned Income Tax Credit, education, the criminal-justice system, regulation, and research on poverty policy. Listed below is a summary of Ryan’s recommendations for each of these areas:
Earned Income Tax Credit
• Allow people to received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) with their paychecks.
• Double the maximum credit and phase in/phase out rates for childless workers.
• Reduce the age for that group from 25 to 21.
• Pay for the increased cost by eliminating ineffective programs (such as the Social Service Block Grant, the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, the Economic Development Administration, and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program) and corporate welfare (such as to the agricultural and energy industries).
• Reduce fraud in the Additional Child Tax Credit by requiring the use of Social Security numbers.
• Incorporate the Child Care and Development Fund into the Opportunity Grant.
• Convert Head Start into a block grant.
• Test competing models of early education.
• Allow for portability of federal dollars for elementary and secondary education.
• Consolidate fragmented programs into a flexible block grant.
• Empower states to determine which schools in their communities need assistance and what kind of assistance they need.
• Simplify the current pile of higher-education programs into one grant, one loan, and one work-study program.
• Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
• Modernize and reform the Pell program.
• Cap federal loans to graduate students and parents.
• Consider reforms to the TRIO programs, which primarily target low-income individuals who are the first in their families to go to college.
• Expand funding for federal Work-Study programs.
• Build stronger partnerships with post-secondary institutions.
• Reform the accreditation process.
• Consolidate duplicative job-training programs into one flexible block grant.
• Spur more innovation by opening up the accreditation process.
• Grant judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders.
• Implement a risk- and needs-assessment system in federal prisons while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism.
• Allow non-violent and low-risk inmates to use enrollment to earn time off their prison stay towards prerelease custody.
• Partner with reforms at the state and local level.
• Require Congress to review any proposed federal regulation that would unduly burden low-income families.
•Call for states and local governments to revise their occupational licensing laws.
•Create a commission to examine the best ways to encourage rigorous analysis of our safety-net programs.
As Rep. Ryan says in the paper, “Poverty is a very complex problem, and Washington doesn’t have all the answers. This paper is not meant to serve as the final word, but to start a conversation all across the country.”