Devolution Number Nine

Paul_Ryan_s_Secret_Poverty_Plan_-e60e252a2f805fd2cf047534c7e1d642Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Crazy) has a new plan to fight poverty. There is actually a chapter on criminal justice that is worth some attention. Why is there a piece on criminal justice in an anti-poverty report? C’mon, you know! Also there are pieces on job training, regulation, and education.

My interest is in the chapters on the Earned Income Tax Credit and the safety net, but the common theme throughout the report is to convert Federal programs into block grants. A block grant is a fixed pot of money provided to a state or local government for broadly-defined purposes. Ryan’s report is at pains to assert that the conversion would not entail spending cuts. This could not be further from the truth.

The story goes back to the days of Richard Nixon. I told it here. I was not the first to figure out the deal. The short version is that a program or programs converted to a block grant is being set up to wither away. Block grants are designed through formulas to grow slowly or not at all, despite the likelihood that whatever the included programs were aimed at typically costs more to deal with every year. There are also two malignant political dynamics at work. One is that Congress doesn’t like to spend money without a say in what happens to the money. Block grants transfer control to state governments. They have the fun of spending the money, Congress has the fun of raising the taxes to pay for it. The other is that the more vague — “flexible” — the purposes of the grant, the less focused is its political support.

State officials are always happy to play this game because the money is front-loaded. In the initial years the grant is close to what they were getting before, and by the time the grant shrinks, they will be out of office anyway.

The transfer of program responsibility from the Federal government to the states is known as devolution. It is the standard way of attacking domestic spending for social purposes, going back to Richard Nixon’s dismantling of the original, more interesting War on Poverty launched by Lyndon Johnson.

Monday I will go into the plan’s specific anti-poverty provisions.



Devolution Number Nine — 21 Comments

  1. Pingback: Links for 7-25-14 | The Penn Ave Post

  2. You ought to remove D-Squared Digest from your links. DD has made his blog by invite only and I am not invited.

  3. Thanks for writing about this villain. He’s made it pretty clear through comments on the campaign trail and in a congressional hearing on poverty that I watched that he wants to get more money routed through “faith based groups”. Now that closely held corporations can have “sincerely held beliefs” (see Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius), I’m wondering what’s happening to the routing of federal faith-based initiative money. You might not be able to find that out in short order. But that’s on the horizon and, incidentally, the Dems don’t seem to have a problem with it.

    Also, I have to share this: As of 2012, only 30% of T.A.N.F. funds were actually getting to poor recipients across the nation in the form of cash benefits –which is what T.A.N.F. was supposed to be. The remaining funds are used by the states’ legislators andgovernors to pay for whatever it is they want it to pay for in whatever year. That’s what Americans get when D.C. blog grants something. See Jason DeParle’s piece in NYTimes, “Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit”

    DeParle wrote the book on the subject: “American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare”.

  4. Daniel is a good friend, virtually speaking, so no can do. Perhaps he doesn’t invite people with pseudonyms. I can try and intercede with him if you like. He doesn’t post that often, by the way.

  5. Nixon resented the poors.
    Reagan mocked them.
    Clinton triangulated them.
    Ryan is a dick.

  6. The one starting “It’s the worst kind of special pleading,”? It’s there. Was there another? In general comments with two or more links go to spam and I check before destroying them utterly. I don’t see anything there from you.

  7. In general I’m starved for comments. I’m a lonely guy. A troll or two would be nice.

  8. You’re right, I just realized a moment ago that I remarked on an entirely different piece. Sorry.

  9. If so called “block grants” have no mechanism to assure that the money received by a state is spent as it had been intended by the federal legislation that originates that money, why even bother to discuss the specifics of the legislation? It seems to me that Ryan has little intention of actually doing something about poverty any more so than any individual governor may. That the original legislation may say lots of nice things about alleviating the worst pains of poverty is not to say that the money provided will be used to ameliorate those pains. Federal money given in block grants is like money thrown down a black hole to be funneled in any direction that individual state administrations may see fit.

    The entire exercise is likely to have no better purpose than to allow Ryan to say that he is proposing a poverty program. It’s bull shit and should be so described rather than allowing dialogue that sounds like a debate on how to alleviate poverty or its worst consequences. Any debate should start by focusing on the issue of block grants and the cynical character such funding is likely to be intended for.

  10. The basic thrust of block grants is to transfer discretion from the Feds to the states, so expecting discretion plus accountability is kind of like squaring a circle. Ryan is proposing an elaborate set-up that I will argue is counter-intuitive to go along with his block grant. I’m going to get into that next week.

  11. He’s just taken his blog private. Send him an email and he’ll gladly give you an invite. Best if it’s from a gmail account or the like or the invite will expire after awhile (like mine did). The email I had for him was his first full name daniel then a dot “.” then his last name.

    Which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to ask him for a re-invite for some time now.

  12. LGM just got rid of some of theirs. I suppose you can go and round up a few there.

  13. My state (Oklahoma) provides a perfect snapshot of block grants by its TANF spending*. Eligibility guidelines limit the monthly income for a family of three to $824 per month, half the poverty level. The TANF assistance for that family is $292 a month, well below the national average of $429.

    TANF recipient families dropped from nearly 50,000 in 1994 to 7,782 families in March 2013. About two-thirds of that assistance went to child-only cases, with only 2,743 working parents qualifying for payments. In the meantime, the state placed almost $10 million into “family formation and support” services, including an expensive ad campaign to tell Oklahomans to get married.

    *2013 numbers throughout.

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