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.