Ryan proposes streamlining anti-poverty programs, giving states more flexibility

Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a new plan Thursday to merge up to 11 anti-poverty programs into a single grant program for states that he said would allow more flexibility to help lift people out of poverty.

Programs that would be merged include food stamps, cash welfare, housing subsidies, and heating aid for the poor, among others.

The Wisconsin Republican and 2012 vice presidential nominee is a respected voice within his party. His new "Opportunity Grant" plan would impose work or job training requirements on aid recipients and require states that choose to participate to set up at least two service providers, a move he says would encourage partnerships with locally-based nonprofits and community groups that may better know the needs of their communities.

Ryan, who has traveled the country in the past year visiting with the poor and with those who help them, said current anti-poverty programs are "fragmented and formulaic" and that his new grant program would allow greater collaboration within communities to help lift people out of poverty.

"The idea would be to let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results — in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability," Ryan said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "Get rid of these bureaucratic formulas. Put the emphasis on results."

In the speech, Ryan said his plan would permit greater innovation to help people find opportunities to get jobs. A single mother who wants to be a teacher, for example, might focus on getting help with transportation and child care to take night classes rather than on getting other forms of aid like food assistance.

"Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs." Ryan said. "Under the Opportunity Grant, you could go to one office and work with one person for all your needs."

Third-party monitors would judge the effectiveness of programs and providers.

Participation by states would be voluntary, and Ryan said he sees the proposal as an experimental pilot program that wouldn't be expanded until the initial results are in.

"Any provider who came up short could no longer participate. And at the end of the program, we would pool the results and go from there," Ryan said.

Ryan largely endorses a plan by President Barack Obama to increase tax credits for the working poor by doubling the credit available to childless workers and lowering the eligibility age from 25 to 21. He proposes to pay for it by cutting what he calls "corporate welfare" and ineffective programs. He also endorsed bipartisan efforts to give judges more discretion in handing down prison sentences to nonviolent offenders.