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Politics & Government

Ryan Rolls Out Poverty Plan, Critics Skeptical

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan unveiled a huge anti-poverty agenda Thursday.

He calls it his “Opportunity Grant” initiative.

It would merge handfuls of social service programs into a single grant program for states. The plan includes a few initiatives Democrats have been pushing for years.

Ryan says he’s spent the past year traveling across the country, listening to ideas from people fighting poverty on the front lines. He’s folded some into his plan, and he wants the country to try it.

It would allow states to merge nearly a dozen programs under one umbrella, including food stamps, housing subsidies and heating aid.

“Each state that wanted to participate would submit a plan to the federal government. That plan would lay out in detail, the state’s proposed alternative. If everything passed muster, the federal government would give the green light. This new, simplified stream of funding would become the Opportunity Grant,” Ryan says.

Ryan outlined conditions states would have to meet in order to receive a grant. For instance, they’d have to make sure as many recipients as possible, are working. His plan also would increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for low income workers.

“This is one of the programs that has really shown results. It encourages people to work by increasing the rewards of work. And we all know that the more people we have in the workforce, the more opportunity we have in this country,” Ryan says.

Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore says she’s pleased Ryan is reaching across the aisle and grabbing some of her party’s ideas. Yet, she remains skeptical, especially about what programs his plan might eliminate. It says the ineffective ones, would go.

“He says in order to pay for the Earned Income Tax Credit, we have to cut the food and nutrition program, and programs that provide rides for elderly and Meals on Wheels and that kind of thing. It’s debatable whether that would contribute to a good anti-poverty schemata in the long run,” Moore says.

Moore says in addition, she worries that the pot of money the feds would give each state, might not be enough.

“What it means is the state will be given a sum of money, and when that money runs out, it doesn’t matter how much you need, how worthy or needy or eligible you are, the funds will not be available,” Moore says.

Moore notes that Ryan has a lot of clout in Congress, so his anti-poverty agenda will likely get a hearing. Ryan says his plan isn’t a bill, but simply a conversation-starter.