Editorial: Fight poverty with jobs, skills

The Detroit News

Stuck with a presidential nominee who makes headlines for his posturing rather than his policies, the Republican Party is trying to remind voters the GOP has substantive ideas to improve America not often reflected in the rantings of Donald Trump.

The party, under the leadership of House Speaker Paul Ryan, is rolling out a series of white papers on the critical issues facing the country. Hopefully, they’ll give Republicans down the ballot something to talk about other than Trump’s latest gaffe, and improve the chances of holding majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

Poverty was the first of the Better.GOP idea sheets offered last week. Unfortunately, it came at the same time most of the media attention was focused on Trump’s racist comments about Mexican and Muslim judges.

That’s the challenge the GOP will face through this election cycle. But it would be a shame if its solid suggestions for fixing the federal government were lost to the antics emanating from the Trump presidential campaign.

On poverty, Republicans are tackling one of the least effective and most wasteful government function. This year, Washington will spend $744 billion on 80 programs to provide food, housing and health care to impoverished Americans. That’s double the amount spent in 2016.

Yet the poverty rate remains stubbornly stable at 14.8 percent, virtually the same as it was in 1966 when the Great Society anti-poverty initiative began.

Something’s not working.

Proposed Republican reforms would not spend a dollar less on poverty programs, or a dollar more. Rather, they would revamp the system to make it more individually targeted and change the goal from sustaining people in a tolerable level of poverty to moving them out of poverty altogether.

They’d do it by giving states more flexibility in coordinating the 80 income and welfare programs, and tailoring them to local needs.

Most, if not all, assistance programs would be tied to incentives to work and get job training. Despite the welfare reforms of 1996 that required recipients to seek jobs or job training, today half of work capable recipients are not working or being trained to work.

As long as that’s true, they will remain poor.

Republicans would also remove disincentives to find jobs by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and other measures. And they would stop penalizing parents who currently risk losing benefits if they marry.

The ideas stretch from cradle to grave. The plan would assist states in crafting child care and preschool programs that work, and help older Americans save for their retirements.

It would also finally attack waste in a system that sends out $125 billion a year in improper payments by implementing better spending controls and accountability.

Welfare, like most government programs, is evaluated by a perverse measure—by how much they spend and how many people are enrolled rather than how many are moved out of the programs and into self-sustaining lives.

Once started, an assistance program is almost impossible to kill, even if it isn’t delivering the promised outcomes — witness the Obamaphone debacle.

Crafting aid programs that are aimed at quickly and permanently getting recipients back on their feet is the most compassionate way to help those in need.

Republicans have a solid plan to make that happen.