House Speaker Paul Ryan along with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott will moderate a panel on opportunity and poverty in South Carolina on Saturday. South Carolina is one of the early primary states and several Republican presidential candidates will attend. One possible item for discussion: the "Opportunity Grant." Speaker Ryan first mentioned this proposal two years ago as a way to change how the federal government combats poverty.
The idea is to consolidate federal anti-poverty programs, like food stamps, into a single block grant program. Essentially, the feds would write a check to a state and that state would be responsible for everything else.
Tim Smeeding, professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said he doesn't know if this plan will work.
“Just telling the states, ‘Here, do what you want. Take this bundle of programs,’ and they’re off the federal budget then we don’t have to worry about it, some states will use it creatively and positively and others won’t,” he said.
Much of Ryan’s plan talks about helping low-income families find work.
Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University, said employment is a key to getting out of poverty, but "I frankly don’t understand why bundling all the programs into one large block grant is going to address the issue of work incentives,” she said.
Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the forum’s sponsors, said American policymakers need to rethink how we look at poverty.
“The programs that we use to serve Americans who are struggling are not well coordinated," he said. "And they’re not all that effective right now.”
Doar said he doesn’t know if Ryan's plan is the answer, but he’s happy they’re having the discussion.