Twenty-seven years ago, a U.S. House member died trying to help the homeless, a growing problem after Reagan cut low-income housing and deinstitutionalized psychiatric hospitals. In 1987 when almost no federal money addressed the growing problem of homeless people, activists succeeded in passing the only new social program enacted during the Reagan administration. Rep. Stewart McKinney from Connecticut was an instrumental part of passing the landmark legislation.
The first Republican to publicly declare the need for a federal initiative to help the homeless, McKinney and other representatives introduced the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, later renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Joined by such celebrities as Martin Sheen and Dennis Quaid, he and a dozen other members of Congress held the Great American Sleep-Out with homeless people who slept outside every night on March 3, 1987.
McKinney had suffered from AIDS for the eight years. Although doctors and colleagues urged him to not sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures, McKinney was willing to risk his life for this important issue. Two months later, he died from AIDS-related pneumonia. During that time, both Congressional chambers passed the bill with sufficient majority that Reagan couldn’t veto it.
The law has saved countless other lives and helped thousands more to regain stability. It created over a dozen programs that provide homeless services and allotted $1 billion in funding for emergency shelters, job training, housing vouchers, etc. In addition, the law supports the rights of the homeless, including that of children to receive an education.
That was 27 years ago. Now Paul Ryan (R-WI) represent GOP members in Congress. As chair of the House Budget Committee, he just released a 204-page report called “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later.”
In his self-identified goal to “help” low-income families, he is using his report to show the failure of federal efforts to reduce poverty on his road to further shred the safety net for those low-income families. Ryan continues to argue that poverty in the United States comes from “the poverty trap” of federal programs. His own report, however, shows success in federal programs (material in quotes from Ryan’s report):
- Veterans Health Administration: “effective in providing access to inexpensive health care for low-income veterans.”
- Child Tax Credit (assistance to families with children): “protected about 2.9 million people from falling into poverty, including about 1.5 million children.”
- Earned Income Tax Credit (cash assistance to low-income working families): “an effective tool for encouraging and rewarding work among lower-income individuals, particularly single mothers.”
- Rural Housing Assistance Grants: “allow very low-income elderly homeowners on a fixed budget to remain at home and independent.”
- Title X Family Planning: “women who utilize Title X (Family Planning program) services as their primary source of health care have significantly greater odds of receiving contraceptive services and/or care for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than women who utilize private physicians or HMOs.”
- Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program: “has been shown to fill gaps in Medicaid’s HIV/AIDS services and delivery programs.”
- Housing Opportunities For Persons With AIDS: “effective” in “assisting a vulnerable population to achieve beneficial outcome.”
- Federal Health Centers (grants to outpatient primary-care facilities): “fewer racial and ethnic disparities at community health centers” and “perform better than private-practice primary case in some cases.” The report also reveals medical expenses for health center patients were found to be lower compared to patients who receive care elsewhere.
- Homeless Assistance Grants: shown to “decrease homeless and reduce costs related to health care and institutionalization.”
- Low income subsidy for Medicare Part D (medications for low-income seniors): “A 2012 study compared two groups of seniors with similar commodities and found that seniors taking advantage of the LIS subsidy were significantly more likely to take medically necessary medications than the group not enrolled in the LIS program.”
- The Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant (to reduce infant mortality): rated “effective.”.
- Elderly Nutrition Program (group meals and home-delivered meals for senior citizens): “well targeted towards the low-income elderly and to those with increased risk for nutrition and health problems.”
- Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children: “increases birth weights for low-income women.”
- School Breakfast Program: increases “both nutrition and academic achievement among low-income children.”
- Education For Homeless Children and Youth: “provides funding for states to create programs to ensure homeless children and youth have access to public education” and improves “student performance.”
- Child Care and Development Fund: subsidies “increase the likelihood of participation in the labor force” and “encourage single mothers to pursue education.”
The editorial board of the New York Times described Ryan’s complaints as “small and tired”:
“It’s easy to find flaws or waste in any government program, but the proper response is to fix those flaws, not throw entire programs away as Mr. Ryan and his party have repeatedly proposed. It might be possible, for example, to consolidate some of the 20 different low-income housing programs identified in the report, but Congressional Democrats have no reason to negotiate with a party that fundamentally doesn’t believe government should play a significant role in reducing poverty. (Similarly, Republicans complain endlessly about flaws in health care reform, but their sole solution is to repeal the entire program, not improve it.)
“The report notes that some programs, including the earned-income tax credit, have been effective, but it fails to draw the proper lessons from those examples. The most successful programs, including the tax credit, Medicaid and food stamps, have been those that are carefully designed, properly managed and well-financed. For all their glossy reports, Republicans have shown no interest in making these or any other social programs work better.”
Further analysis of the report shows that Ryan’s report misrepresented its data. The Fiscal Times’ Rob Garver interviewed economists used to prove Ryan’s points. Their responses:
Jane Waldfogel: Ryan omitted two of the most successful years of the war on poverty on a December study from the Columbia Research Center measuring the decline in poverty after the start of the “war on poverty.” The study found that the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012, but Ryan’s data starts in 1969 and ignores 36 percent of the decline. Waldfogel said, “It’s technically correct, but it’s an odd way to cite the research. In my experience, usually you use all of the available data. There’s no justification given. It’s unfortunate because it really understates the progress we’ve made in reducing poverty.”
- Columbia researcher Chris Wimer: Ryan’s manipulated his work in discussing the 1996 welfare-reform law.
- University of Wisconsin at Madison professor Barbara Wolfe: Ryan’s report “misstated” her findings on housing assistance and mischaracterized her research on Medicaid.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Jeffrey Brown: Ryan’s report ignored relevant caveats when he highlighted Brown’s scholarship on Medicaid.
Almost 60 years ago, a Republican president initiated the 46,000-mile interstate highway system. Dwight D. Eisenhower supported the implementation of school de-segregation in Little Rock (AK), helped the low-income people through farm subsidies (when most farmers really were poor), expanded Social Security, and added funding to the Federal Housing Administration so that people could buy their own homes. He left taxes higher for the wealthy, and times were prosperous. When Eisenhower left the presidency, he warned people about the “military–industrial complex,” causing today’s debt crisis.
Over 40 years ago, Richard Nixon developed diplomatic relationships with China and the Soviet Union, halting the Cold War, and created the EPA to address rampant pollution. During his time in the office, man walked on the moon, and Congress passed Title IX to fight inequality for girls in education. Endorsing the ERA, Nixon was also the first president to explicitly advance women’s rights in his administration.
During Gerald Ford’s brief administration, the GOP began its downward spiral into a cold, calculating party, ignorant about successful economic principles. When Christian fundamentalists put Reagan into office four years later, he started to wipe out unions and shred the people’s safety net. At the same time Reagan drastically built up the military and slashed the top income taxes by more than 60 percent. His tax-cut policies forced him to borrow heavily, driving the national debt from $700 billion to $3 trillion.
In less than a half century, the GOP has gone from a party that supports the poor, unions, women’s and civil rights, equitable taxes, education, lack of military intervention, and, indeed all the people in the United States to Ryan’s “war on the 99 percent.”