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Yesterday, the House Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility – one of six cross-committee working groups announced by House Speaker Paul Ryan in February – released a broad set of policy proposals intended to stake out the party’s anti-poverty agenda for the remainder of 2016 and beyond. The new report includes proposals for sweeping changes to safety net programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and federal housing programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and also sets forth principles and recommendations for a range of other federal investments, including career and technical education programs under the Carl D. Perkins Act and postsecondary funding under the Higher Education Act.
Overall, the task force report expands on ideas that Speaker Ryan has proposed in past years – most notably in a series of budget proposals released during his time as chair of the House budget committee – arguing that federal anti-poverty efforts are generally ineffective and calling for reduced spending and consolidation of many means-tested programs. The task force adopts a very broad definition of federal “welfare” programs, counting 80 different federal programs across 13 different agencies including Pell Grants, workforce programs under WIOA, and federal tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, and suggests that combined federal and state expenditures on programs for low-income individuals amounts to approximately $1 trillion per year.
In a section entitled, “Repairing the Nation’s Safety Net to Expand Opportunity,” the task force sets out four key principles that will guide reform efforts and brief policy recommendations that will guide their legislative efforts moving forward:
1) “Expecting work-capable adults to work or prepare for work in exchange for welfare benefits.” The report calls for a range of policy changes intended to tighten existing work requirements for anti-poverty programs and expand work requirements to other programs, including:
2) “Getting incentives right so everyone benefits when someone moves from welfare to work” The report suggests that there are often disincentives for individuals and states in transitioning program participants from public assistance into work, and recommends:
3) “Measuring the results” – generally asserts that most federal programs are not backed by evidence, and that those programs that are evaluated often have limited results. The task force:
4) “Focusing support on the people who need it most” – this set of recommendations is largely focused on reducing improper payments, particularly through the Earned Income Tax Credit, Unemployment Insurance, SSI, and SNAP. The task force calls for greater alignment of data across agencies to eliminate error rates, and greater use of data analytics tools to identify fraud.
In the second major section of the report, entitled “Improving Skills and Knowledge of our Workforce,” the report provides recommendations covering a range of different topics, including early childhood development, juvenile justice reform, and banking and pension reforms. Importantly, this section also provides a set of principles for reauthorization of the Perkins Act and the Higher Education Act
Under the heading of Improving Career and Technical Education, the task force notes that Perkins is due for reauthorization, and suggests that House Republicans will prioritize:
Under the heading of Strengthening America’s Higher Education System, the task force suggests that the current higher education system is “unaffordable, bureaucratic, and outdated,” and suggests that HEA reauthorization will focus on:
National Skills Coalition strongly opposes efforts to reduce federal funding for anti-poverty programs and to impose work requirements on public assistance recipients without investments in education, training, and support services to enable individuals to successfully transition into family-supporting jobs and careers. While we believe some of the task force proposals may have merit – particularly around restoring year-round Pell and expanding business-CTE partnerships – overall we believe the task force recommendations will likely do more harm than good for low-skilled workers and other disadvantaged populations. We would urge the task force to focus its efforts instead on expanding access to high-quality education and training programs that would enable low-income individuals to get and keep good jobs and increasing investments in proven strategies, such as sector partnerships and career pathways strategies that can help businesses grow and succeed.