4:34am

Thu January 9, 2014
Politics

Sen. Rubio Proposes States Fight Poverty With Federal Funds

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 10:21 am

It was a two-step move for Republicans at the Capitol Wednesday: to both praise the sentiment of the War on Poverty – but also to critique it.

"We are here to mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of the War on Poverty," said Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida. "And while this war may have been launched with the best of intentions, it's clear we're now engaged in a battle for attrition."

As Democrats talk about refining the effort Johnson set in motion, Republicans say it needs wholesale changes. As members of the Republican Study Committee spelled out at Wednesday's news conference, the GOP sees the federal program as a failure of big government and say states know best how to help the poor.

"How do we grow this economy, create jobs, get people working again? Those are the policies we need to be focused on," said Michigan Rep. Dave Camp. "One of them is tax reform. And I think that is one that would actually bring us a stronger economy, more investment and the kinds of job creation that we need to see. That means more people get hired."

The group dismissed statistics showing the poverty rate in the country down in the past 50 years, instead citing the increase — as the overall population has grown — in the total number of Americans living below the poverty line.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gave the most expansive remarks from a leading Republican. Speaking in the LBJ room in the Capitol Building, Rubio ran the numbers, pointing to job losses due to economic changes resulting in the big decline of high wage/low skill work in the U.S.

He said the economy needs lower taxes and fewer regulations and described a failure to retrain workers to obtain the skills needed to advance.

"We have 4 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more," he said. "We have a staggering 49 million Americans living below the poverty line. We have over twice that number — over 100 million people — who get some sort of food aid from the federal government.

"Meanwhile, our labor participation force is at a 35-year low, and children raised in the bottom 20 percent of national income have a 42 percent chance of being stuck there for life," he continued.

Rubio said Americans shouldn't look to Washington for the answers. He proposed taking federal safety-net money and giving it to the states.

"Our anti-poverty programs should be replaced with a revenue-neutral 'flex fund'," he said. "We would streamline most of our existing federal anti-poverty funding into a single agency. Then each year, these flex funds would be transferred to the states so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity."

It's an approach Republicans have long favored, but critics counter that block grants are a way to starve programs of funding.

Rubio says there are no specific proposals to be formally introduced in Congress just yet.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's dig into that disagreement a bit more. While Democrats talk about refining the war on poverty, Republicans say it needs wholesale changes. They generally see anti-poverty programs as a failure of big government. And they say states know best how to help the poor. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It was a two-step move for Republicans at the Capitol yesterday: praise the sentiment on the war on poverty, but - well, here's Florida Congressman Steve Southerland.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SOUTHERLAND: Today, we are here to mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of the war on poverty. And while this war may have been launched with the best of intentions, it's clear we're now engaged in a battle of attrition.

GONYEA: Michigan Congressman Dave Camp joined the news conference, as well, along with other members of the Republican Study Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVE CAMP: How do we grow this economy, create jobs, get people working again? Those are the policies that we need to be focused on. One of them is tax reform, and I think that is one that would actually bring us a stronger economy, more investment and the kinds of job creation that we need to see. And that means more people get hired.

GONYEA: The group dismissed statistics showing the poverty rate in the country down in the past 50 years, instead citing the increase, as the overall population has grown, in the total number of Americans living below the poverty line. The most expansive remarks yesterday by a leading Republican were those of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He spoke in the LBJ room in the Capitol building. Rubio ran the numbers, pointing to job losses due to economic changes, resulting in the big decline of high-wage, low-skill work in the U.S. He said the economy needs lower taxes and fewer regulations. He described a failure to retrain workers to get the skills they need.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: We have four million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. We have a staggering 49 million Americans living below the poverty line. We have over twice that number - over 100 million people - who get some sort of food aid from the federal government. Meanwhile, our labor participation force is at a 35-year low, and children raised in the bottom 20 percent of national income have a 42 percent chance of being stuck there for life.

GONYEA: And, Rubio said, don't look to Washington for the answers. He proposed taking the federal money and giving it to the states.

RUBIO: Our anti-poverty programs should be replaced with a revenue-neutral flex fund. We would streamline the - most of our existing federal anti-poverty funding into a single agency. Then, each year, these flex funds would be transferred to the states, so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity.

GONYEA: It's something Republicans have long favored, but critics counter that such block grants would be a way to starve programs of funding. Rubio says right now, none of this is in the form of proposed legislation. Look for that in the coming months. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.