http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Paul_Ryan_Christopher_Halloran__Shutterstockcom_CNA.jpgWashington D.C., Jun 11, 2016 / 06:14 am (CNA).- After U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced a task force on poverty this, Catholic leaders and economists weighed in, saying that it was a good starting point, but that more needed to be done.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami voiced hope that the proposal would be a conversation-starter on poverty, saying it “ought to be a catalyst for strong bi-partisan dialogue about our brothers and sisters in need and our obligations to give them priority in our policymaking.”
Speaker Ryan’s 35-page plan, A Better Way: Our vision for a confidant America, proposes changes to the welfare system, more cooperation between faith and community-based initiatives and the federal government, and a more results-based critique of federal anti-poverty programs.
“No amount of government intervention can replace the great drivers of American life: our families, friends, neighbors, churches, and charities,” the introduction states. “And Americans do not need more one-size-fits-all, top-down government programs that limit their ability to get ahead. Instead, they need opportunities to help them escape poverty and earn success.”
Among the plans proposals are work requirements for welfare recipients, letting workers avoid the welfare “cliff” by keeping some benefits as they accept wage increases, giving states and local governments more freedom to tailor welfare benefits and incentives to the needs of specific communities, promoting the use of data and information technology to determine the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs, and working with community programs for at-risk youth, to prevent incarceration.
“All too often, our current system of welfare programs and education programs are too complex, or don’t provide the assistance that individuals need in their unique circumstances,” the plan stated. “This is the beginning of a conversation.”
Ryan, who ran for U.S. vice president in 2012, has publically described his budget principles as being based on the Catholic pillars of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Prominent Catholics voiced gratitude to the House Speaker for raising the issue and starting a dialogue on the matter, although they added that the conversation is only beginning.
“It is time for a major national discussion on the moral challenge of overcoming poverty in the richest nation on earth,” John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, told CNA. “I think Speaker Ryan’s proposal is a contribution to that, and I hope it will encourage others to offer their own plans and priorities.”
Carr was glad that the plan avoided touching “block grants, Medicaid, and food stamps,” noting that to do so “posed major practical and political problems” and did “not help the poor, in my view.”
Archbishop Wenski agreed. “Commendably, the plan does not seek to be a blunt instrument with regard to the social safety net,” he stated.
However, John Médaille, an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Dallas, said many of Ryan’s proposals “turn out to be aspirational at best, and contradictory at worst.”
The document “concentrates on symptoms, not causes” of poverty, he argued. “Poverty is the result of not having a job” or of “not having a job with a sufficient wage,” he said, but Ryan’s plan has “no wage-support programs” like a minimum wage hike, and has “no jobs program” to create jobs and bring people out of poverty.