The Path to Poverty 5.0: Return of the Block Grant and Other Insanities


Converting a crucial aspect of our healthcare system into a block grant was a terrible idea when Paul Ryan proposed doing so for Medicaid, but he apparently took the feedback he received from that and is now proposing that we convert every other social program into a block grant.

via ThinkProgress

Under one such measure, the government would establish a pilot “Opportunity Grant” that would consolidate what Ryan sees as duplicative or overlapping federal programs — from food stamps to housing vouchers — into a single grant offered to the states. States would then administer services in partnership with community organizations. Medicaid, the health program for the poor that Ryan had proposed to block grant in previous proposals, would not be included in the initiative.

“It would consolidate up to 11 federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states,” Ryan explained during his remarks. “Each state that wanted to participate would submit a plan to the federal government” and if approved, could then experiment with how best to deliver benefits to its residents.

The most amazing and terrible aspect of Ryan’s proposal is not the black grant itself; it’s the requirement that you sign a formal contract with specific goals and requirements in exchange for receiving your share of the grant. And if you don’t meet the contract requirements, you may be punished.

The contract was outlined by Ryan thusly:


You may ask how this could be judged on a person to person basis, and that’s when things become insane.

“Each beneficiary will sign a contract with consequences for failing to meet the agreed-upon benchmarks. At the same time, there should also be incentives for people to go to work. Under each life plan, if the individual meets the benchmarks ahead of schedule, then he or she could be rewarded. For example, if the goal of an individual’s plan is to find a job within six months, and he or she starts working within three months, he or she could receive a bonus. Bonuses could take a number of creative forms, such as a savings bond. The OG system will promote a more holistic form of aid to move individuals.”

What might these theoretical benchmarks look like? (emphasis mine)


Paul Ryan, a man who purportedly favors small government, wants to micromanage every single aspect of your personal life in exchange for a share of an inevitably-inadequate block grant that falls short of your needs and the needs of the state.

(How are poor people going to expand their ‘circle of friends’ beyond their fellow poors if they’re required to use the special Poor Door to enter their homes?)

The latest iteration of the Path to Poverty doesn’t stop at the water’s edge of social programs.

Ryan’s plan would also use poverty as a vehicle to roll back environmental and public safety regulations by requiring extensive reviews of what impact each regulation will have on the poor.

“First, the agency would have to conduct a distributive analysis of who would bear the cost of the proposed regulation and whether those costs would be regressive. This analysis would have to account for the willingness to pay among lower-income households, rather than assuming all households have an equal willingness to pay. Second, the agency would have to conduct a distributive analysis of who would benefit from the proposed regulation. Finally, the agency would have to produce a distributive analysis of jobs lost, both directly and indirectly, and jobs created (not just the net figure) above and below the median income in the regions affected. The analysis would also have to specify which industries would be affected.”

As others have pointed out, this would make it incredibly difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to do anything about climate change. It would also make it next to impossible to do anything about threats to public health from smog and pollution or, at the very least, greatly extend the time it takes to implement new regulations.

If you think regulators and Congress move at a glacial pace now, imagine the concern-trolling shitshow that would result from this kind of reform. Even if you could produce data that proves a new regulation would not adversely affect the poor, it would still be subject to congressional approval which may or may not hinge on one’s own ideology.

You can view Ryan’s full plan here if you care to.

  • Draxiar

    “Each beneficiary will sign a contract with consequences for failing to meet the agreed-upon benchmarks. At the same time, there should also be incentives for people to go to work. Under each life plan, if the individual meets the benchmarks ahead of schedule, then he or she could be rewarded.”

    So basically his plan really is to run the government like a business. Anyone ever sit through a review where your supervisor asks, “So did you meet your goals over the last year? What are your goals for this next year? What steps will you take to meet those goals?”

  • kushiro -

    Good luck getting your teeth fixed. They’re going to be too busy going through thousands of resumes to have time to make appointments.

    I do like the idea of asking someone to be your “welfare friend”.

  • Christopher Foxx

    The contract was outlined by Ryan thusly:
    * A contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success
    * A timeline for meeting those benchmarks
    * Sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract
    * Incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract
    * Time limits for remaining on cash assistance

    I could be very much in favor of this… as long as one condition is met first: Ryan applies it to Congress. Let’s see him list specific benchmarks and timelines for what he’s going to accomplish, with details about the sanctions he will face for failing to deliver.

    “First, the congressman will prepare detailed analysis listing specifically how many people will be helped and to what extent. Second, the congressman will prepare a detailed analysis listing exactly how the various jobs, classes and counseling will be created for these people including specifics as to when they will become available and how they will be paid for. Finally, the congressman will list the exact sanctions and consequences (e.g., significant fines, mandatory resignation, complete withdrawal from public life, etc.) that he will face should any of the goals not be met in full and on time.”

    • Ellen Kuhlmann

      Or better, apply such a contract to congressional conduct in general. Such as -a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks of legislative action, a timeline for meeting actionable benchmarks, sanctions for not producing/compromising on/passing level of legislation specified in contract, incentives for working across the aisle and meeting goals of addressing pressing legislation, and time limits for remaining in office if goals are not met.

  • MrDHalen

    People like Ryan make me sick. Physically sick! So the U.S. has every right to force it’s citizens to work to survive, but we can’t force corporations to even clean up after themselves let alone HIRE our citizens!

    This is evil folks!! This is what evil looks like dressed up in a suit and elected to office. People like Ryan should be stripped of all tools and dropped in the wilderness for a week. If they survive that, then drop them 20 miles offshore and make them swim back. If they make it back, they can go on being a dick.

    • Christopher Foxx

      People like Ryan should be stripped of all tools and dropped in the wilderness for a week.

      No, that would accomplish nothing.

      People like Ryan should be stripped of all assets and dropped in the inner city for a week. It would only take them that long to whining about how unfair the benefits they’re not getting are.

      • MrDHalen

        I believe stripping them of all assets and dropped in the inner city would accomplish nothing.

        They would still have their connections and education to climb out of poverty in a few days. Dropping them in an environment not automatically designed to support them, is the only way they would see what it’s like to really have to fight to survive.

        • Christopher Foxx

          Didn’t want to get into the finer points in a two-sentence response. The point, of course, would be to make them truly have to live an inner city life.

  • GrafZeppelin127

    When are we going to catch on to the idea that Republicans’ goal to eliminate social programs and commercial regulation will be accomplished by driving up the cost.

    I often point out to those who complain about the undeserving poors getting undeserved benefits that it actually costs more to make sure that those who don’t deserve benefits don’t get them (or, conversely, that only those who deserve them get them) than it does to simply give them the benefits. But to Republicans like Ryan, that’s a feature, not a bug. We have to make social help so expensive, so cumbersome and so unmanageable for everyone involved, that eventually we just decide to give up on it.

    • 1933john

      It’s been their goal, all along.

  • muselet

    All of this, never forget, comes from a man who noisily proclaims his Roman Catholic faith whenever it’s politically expedient to do so.

    What a transparent fraud.