Poverty Enters the Conversation on the Campaign Trail
In his address, given at Ohio’s Cleveland State University, the Wisconsin congressman said that "in this war on poverty, poverty is winning," and talked about public education, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and other issues facing the 46 million Americans living below the poverty line.
While Ryan offered the first substantive mention of these issues on the campaign trail, his plans to fix them are controversial. He voiced support for converting social safety-net programs, including SNAP, from entitlements into block grants.
In the Ohio speech, Ryan also referenced the 1996 welfare reform act (which he noted was passed by a Republican Congress and a Democratic president) that converted the entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. Ryan touted it as a success, citing the reduced number of people on welfare rolls. However, the reform is widely considered to have cut enrollment numbers through strict requirements that excluded many in need. As the number of TANF eligible families grew during the recession, the TANF block grant was unable to keep up with the need.
The important role of "friends, neighbors, and communities" in the fight against poverty was also emphasized by the vice-presidential candidate, who praised private charities, and the charitable acts of individuals in his address. "We’re still trying to measure compassion by how much government spends, not by how many people we help escape from poverty," he said.
Ryan’s recent speech reflects much of what he advocated for as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Long before the elections, Bread for the World has consistently opposed his proposals which would, in essence, egregiously cut programs vital to hungry and poor people. Bread’s position has not changed on this issue, even if Ryan is now advocating this as a vice-presidential candidate. Bread views hunger and poverty as nonpartisan issues, and the fight against them must be a bipartisan effort. Efforts to move people out of poverty are welcome, but not at the expense of abandoning hungry and poor people. We do not support the block-granting of SNAP. Bread believes that while churches and charities play a role in combatting hunger and poverty, the government must not abdicate its responsibility to provide the basic social safety nets for poor working Americans.
“Hunger and poverty are not Republican or Democratic issues—they are moral issues affecting 47 million lives,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “Whoever is elected President must not balance the budget on the backs of hungry and poor people, nor shift the burden of lifting working Americans out of poverty to churches whose resources are already severely stretched. Churches and charities alone can’t meet all the needs of the most vulnerable in our society; government must be a partner in promoting the common good.”
Fact sheet: Block Grants 101
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