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Roundup: Poverty, Opportunity, and the Safety Net


A number of high-profile Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and six presidential candidates, participated in a January 9 forum on poverty and opportunity.  With that in mind, we issued several analyses that we’ve summarized below:

  • GOP Poverty Forum —  Its High Notes and Low Notes:

    It’s encouraging that six Republican presidential candidates appeared in South Carolina to discuss poverty, and they advanced some positive proposals.  Unfortunately, the candidates also said much that was disappointing.  They sometimes misrepresented basic facts and research about poverty and anti-poverty programs.  Some advanced proposals that would likely increase poverty and hardship rather than reduce them.  

  • Commentary: Jeb Bush, Please Talk to Bob Dole About Food Stamps

    Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has called for eliminating food stamps (now known as SNAP), handing the money over to the states, and giving them broad discretion over its use. Bush called SNAP a “failing, ineffective program” that “traps families in perpetual poverty.” He also implied that too much of its funding goes to a costly, bloated federal bureaucracy, and that it’s plagued by overpayments and fraud. Bush could profit from a conversation with former Senate Majority Leader and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole.

  • Improving Opportunity: Building on Past Successes

    Various participants in the poverty forum stressed the importance of improving the job prospects of poor individuals by improving their education and skills.  Rigorous evaluations over the last several decades have shown which types of programs improve disadvantaged workers’ employment and earnings trajectories.  To make good on the promise of increasing opportunity for unemployed and underemployed individuals, policymakers could start by expanding some of these effective, evidence-based practices. 

  • Let’s Improve TANF and Hold States Accountable for Results

    Most of the Republican presidential candidates at the forum called for changing anti-poverty programs to measure results rather than inputs.  Policymakers would do well to adopt reforms along those lines in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  As we near TANF’s 20th anniversary, Congress can take several steps to focus the program more on work and opportunity.

  • Commentary: Merging Safety Net Programs Could Increase Poverty, Not Reduce It

    House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his proposal last month to combine funding for numerous safety net programs into what would essentially be a mega-block grant to states.  His proposal raises serious questions, however.  Our analysis suggests it carries substantial risk of increasing poverty, rather than reducing it.

  • Commentary: Elephant in the Room at GOP Poverty Forum — Tax Cuts and Budget Plans That Would Lead to Sharp Cuts in Anti-Poverty Programs

    Recent congressional Republican budget plans and the steep tax cuts that many Republican presidential candidates are promoting could lead to sharp cuts in anti-poverty programs. 

  • Safety Net Reduces Poverty Now and Promotes Opportunity Over Long Run

    Ahead of the GOP poverty forum, we pointed out three key points about the safety net: (1) because of a stronger safety net, poverty has fallen significantly since President Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964; (2) a growing body of research also finds that anti-poverty programs can produce long-term gains for children, thereby promoting opportunity and mobility; and (3) nevertheless, the United States does less to combat poverty than most other wealthy nations, a key factor contributing to a higher poverty rate here.  

  • Safety Net’s Anti-Poverty Effectiveness Has Grown Nearly Ten-Fold Since 1967

    The safety net was nearly ten times more effective at reducing poverty in 2014 as in 1967, new data show.