Yesterday, Rep. Ryan proposed a plan that would eliminate a program that consolidates multiple antipoverty programs into a single grant to states in the name of providing greater flexibility. Yep, you read that right.
While the press coverage has focused on Rep. Ryan’s “new” idea of consolidating multiple programs into a single “Opportunity Grant,” most of the coverage missed the fact that he proposed to pay for part of his plan by eliminating the Social Service Block Grant (SSBG).
The SSBG is a capped, flexible stream of funding to states that funds services such as adoption, childcare, counseling, child abuse prevention, community-based care for seniors and people with disabilities, and employment services. Last year it helped approximately 23 million people, about half of them children. The program dates back to 1981, when a series of social services were consolidated into this single grant, and since then, many nonprofits have been funded by it to provide services like case management. Sounds a lot like Rep. Ryan’s “Opportunity Grant”, right?
Unfortunately, while SSBG provides states with enormous flexibility, over time it lost a lot of political capital. Politicians began to complain that it was duplicative of other programs. Policymakers could cut it time and again without having to cite any specific consequences since the money was “flexible.” Over time, it has lost 77 percent of its value due to inflation, cuts, and funding freezes, and in recent years, there have been attempts to eliminate it altogether. This is surely predictive of Rep. Ryan’s new proposal.
Which brings me back to the “Opportunity Grants.” Right now, Rep. Ryan is claiming that his plan is completely deficit neutral, and states would not lose any money.
Yet, in a cautionary tale, calls for elimination of SSBG have been supported by none other than Rep. Ryan, who out of the other side of his mouth is proposing an eerily similar idea: to consolidate, in the name of flexibility, major funding streams that currently help low-income families. In fact, Rep. Ryan proposes eliminating the Social Service Block Grant altogether to pay for his proposed EITC expansion for childless workers. In an ironic twist that he seems to miss, he claims that SSBG is “ineffective.”
Thank you, Paul Ryan, for illustrating more clearly than anyone else possibly could why your proposal is so dangerous.