Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two blog posts responding to Paul Ryan’s Expanding Opportunity in America proposal, released last week. Read the first post about the 5 myths weighing down Ryan’s plan.
A Better Alternative: “HOPE” (Health, Opportunity, and Personal Empowerment) Accounts and Action PlansInstead of incorrectly assuming that poverty is caused by irresponsible behavior that should be corrected by “sanctions” against poor people, government and low-income families should forge an entirely new social contract based on mutual responsibility and shared prosperity.
In my experience, when people believe their hard work will be rewarded, they will work their tails off. To truly reduce poverty, restoring economic opportunity and restoring hope must go hand in hand. Low-income Americans don’t need more lectures and punishment. They need more money.
Low-income individuals, already eager to take steps to better their lives, should have government as a true partner in hope, not a patronizing disciplinarian criticizing their every move.
To do so, the federal government should launch a pilot program to create HOPE (Health, Opportunity and Personal Empowerment) accounts and action plans that combine improved technology, streamlined case management and coordinated access to federal, state, city and non-profit programs, and modernized job training and placement services that give people the tools they need to take charge of their future and implement a long-term plan to climb into – and stay in – the middle class. If the federal government fails to do so, states or localities should create them.
A HOPE program would enable families, in one step, to apply for a wide range of government and philanthropic aid to improve health, nutrition, job training and placement, housing, income, etc., and provide them with matching funds if they are able to set aside any personal savings. The accounts would allow low-income families to easily access and monitor – in one central online account – the status, amounts and recertification deadlines of all their benefits.
The families, government officials and nonprofit entities providing resources would voluntarily sign a long-term HOPE plan of action specifying how all parties will work together to help the families to earn, learn, work and save better in order to ensure greater economic opportunity for themselves and their children.
At a superficial level, these accounts and plans would be similar to the contracts proposed by Ryan, but they would be very different in both intention and implementation.
Unlike the Ryan opportunity grants that would replace existing federal programs, the HOPE accounts and plans would be in addition to existing government efforts.
Unlike Ryan’s proposal, which seems to assume that his proposed opportunity grants can somehow succeed even if the rest of the safety net is slashed and the economy is still failing, this proposal assumes that HOPE accounts and plans can only be effective in the context of both a robust safety net and broad-based economic growth that create jobs and raises wages.
The Ryan plan would make government an overlord of families and determine their fate. In contrast, this plan would empower families with the concrete tools necessary to take charge of their own futures.
Low-income Americans don’t need more lectures and punishment. They need more money and hope.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.