Last week, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed a plan that would completely revamp the nation’s safety net programs by creating a “personalized, customized form of aid—one that recognizes both a person’s needs and their strengths—both the problem and the potential,” as he described it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. The plan sounds too good to be true, and like most things that sound too good to be true, it isn’t.
Ryan’s plan envisions a system that would tailor the assistance to the individual and move them up the income ladder, leading them to a point where they would no longer have need of any assistance from the government, something that liberals have been supporting for decades. It is an admirable goal but it ignores the fact that all who look to government assistance have the same basic needs: food, shelter, clothing and healthcare.
Even more problematic is the increased expense of implementing the plan. With approximately 40 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits and a caseload of 55 clients per caseworker, more than 700,000 social workers would be needed. These social workers are not highly paid but at an average of $44,000 per year, not counting the cost of benefits, just paying them would amount to a staggering $30 billion plus per year and that is before one dime has been spent providing services for their clientele.
Ryan’s plan also calls for a requirement that recipients work, ignoring the fact that 60 percent of all adults who receive a SNAP benefit already work but are not able to find employment that pays a wage they can live on.
Ryan should be aware of the problems with his proposals. There have been several experiments with this sort of approach around the country over the last several decades, including one in his home state of Wisconsin in the late 1990s which was riddled with problems. There were some success stories but most of them came as a result of clients who became disillusioned with the lack of results and turned their backs on the plan, walking away to find employment on their own.
“What we see in Milwaukee isn’t what we envisioned,” said State Senator Alberta Darling at the time. “There have been problems from the get-go, with child care and management systems. We’re not demanding enough of the people delivering the services and there are a lot of excuses on the table that I don’t find acceptable.”
In Nebraska, a similar approach was tried over a period of several years and it produced better results than any previous plan, but it was at a cost — about $5,000 more per client than they would have earned upon entering the workforce. A study done of the experiment concluded that the state would have been better off had they simply written a check for $5,000 to each of the families in the program and walked away.
While this proposal sounds less uncaring than Ryan’s previous pronouncements concerning the poor, labeling them as “takers” parasitically living off the blood and sweat of the “makers” leaves much to be desired, and it is hard to imagine that his fellow Republicans will ever agree to fund a plan this costly.
h/t: Mother Jones