House Republicans Release Anti-Poverty Agenda

House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-WI) and the Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released on June 7 an anti-poverty agenda titled “A Better Way: Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility.” The Task Force identified four key principles that guided their work: conditioning the provision of welfare benefits on work, providing incentives to move people from welfare to work, measuring results, and focusing support on people with the greatest need.

The following are some of the Task Force’s recommendations, particularly focusing on those pertaining to housing.

Work Requirements

The Task Force recommends that work-capable welfare recipients be required to work or be preparing for work to receive benefits under federal safety-net programs. To encourage work among people receiving federal housing assistance, the Task Force recommends aligning housing benefits with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for all work-capable residents who are living in public housing or in project-based Section 8 housing or who have received a Housing Choice voucher. All states currently impose work-related participation requirements on most adults who receive TANF assistance.

The Task Force claims that HUD programs lack requirements that encourage self-sufficiency, contributing “to rental assistance becoming more expensive and waiting lists growing larger each year as current recipients stay longer.” Under the Task Force’s proposal, work-capable individuals receiving housing assistance would be expected to work or prepare to work by developing self-sufficiency plans with a TANF case worker, who would also assist them in preparing for working, such as helping arrange child care, transportation and other necessities.

The Task Force proposes that local jurisdictions administering housing assistance should provide program guidance in the same way states provide guidance for the TANF program, such as mandating work requirements, educational training, and time limits for benefits “to encourage non-working work-capable recipients to move towards jobs, careers, and economic independence.”

While the Task Force proposes linking affordable housing to TANF, it is important to note that the welfare reform of the 1990s that created TANF not only failed to reduce poverty but also pushed some families into deeper poverty. The majority of people who are eligible for TANF benefits do not receive them. In 2012, only 32.4% of eligible families received assistance from the TANF program, and recent research indicates that some of the nation’s poorest families are not receiving assistance. Poor families not receiving TANF benefits include those who have been sanctioned for not complying with program requirements or who have reached their state’s time limit. Studies have found that families that lost their TANF benefits through sanctions are more likely than other families to include a person with a disability that can hinder his or her ability to find or maintain employment.

Work requirements and time limits have been imposed in HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration without the necessary evaluation to see if these provisions help low income residents increase earnings or produce negative outcomes. The upcoming expansion of the MTW program to an additional 100 public housing agencies (PHAs) provides an opportunity to evaluate how such policies impact public housing residents. Unlike the first iteration of the program, the expansion will be overseen by a research advisory committee to ensure the demonstrations are evaluated with rigorous protocols, including quantitative analysis and comparisons to control groups. This new evaluation requirement conforms to the Task Force’s emphasis on funding programs based on performance outcomes. Lawmakers should hold off on mandating work requirements for recipients of housing assistance until that research is conducted to better understand the potential impacts of such requirements.

Increasing Flexibility

The Task Force proposes allowing states to test new ways of providing welfare benefits to achieve desired outcomes. When states choose to exercise such flexibilities, any demonstration conducted must be paired with an evaluation to determine its efficacy in helping people rise out of poverty.

Creating Individual Choice in Housing Assistance

The Task Force recognizes that many households receiving housing assistance face significant barriers when trying to move to the neighborhood of their choice. NLIHC agrees with the Task Force’s recommendation to reform how PHAs administer housing assistance vouchers to enhance their portability and “to encourage recipients to move to areas with more affordable housing, education, or job opportunities.”

Currently, 2,400 public housing agencies (PHAs) administer the nation’s two million Housing Choice vouchers. Fifty-eight percent of PHAs administer fewer than 400 vouchers. These small housing agencies exist in rural, suburban, and urban markets. In urban markets, there are 558 housing agencies administering vouchers in the nation’s 49 most populated metro areas.  Consolidation of the administration of vouchers would result in administrative cost savings, bring significant benefits to voucher holders and people with low incomes in need of housing vouchers, and reduce HUD’s oversight costs.

The Task Force also recommends moving beyond the public housing model towards new housing models “that harness the abilities of non-profits and other cost-effective service providers.” While NLIHC believes that public housing is a critical housing resource for people of modest means, we recognize that in the current unstable federal budget environment, developers can no longer count solely on federal resources to support projects serving extremely low income (ELI) households, those earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI). The national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, and the Rental Assistance Demonstration programs offer ample opportunities to finance the creation and preservation of affordable housing while leveraging private dollars.

Task Force also proposes efforts to encourage greater engagement of public housing residents in the operation and management of their residences. NLIHC has long advocated for greater resident engagement and participation. Public housing residents have important personal perspectives about the impact of established and emerging housing policies on their homes and communities, and they have good ideas about how their housing should be managed. Resident participation in all aspects of housing management is critical to the long-term success of federal housing programs.

Reducing Duplication

The Task Force recommends consolidating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service rental assistance program into HUD’s Housing Choice voucher program, since they have “almost identical goals.” The Task Force argues that through consolidation, lawmakers can simplify the delivery of services for seamlessness, consistency and fairness.

Measuring Results

The Task Force asserts that taxpayer dollars have been wasted on programs that do not achieve their stated purpose and emphasizes that safety net programs should be funded only if they are proven to be effective through rigorous data-driven evaluation. The Task Force makes several recommendations for funding programs based on evidence-based policymaking:

  • Tiered-Funding Structures: Programs will first be tested on a smaller scale and later, if proven effective, scaled up.
  • Use Funding Models that Only Pay Based on Outcomes: The proposal recommends using a pay-for-success or social-impact financing model, in which an organization or intermediary receives payment from the government only if the agreed-upon outcomes are achieved.
  • Program Evaluation to Determine Funding Decisions: Every social program would be evaluated to determine its effectiveness. To do so, the Task Force recommends redirecting program funding towards data collection and evaluation.
  • Expand the Availability of Data and Information: The proposal recommends that policymakers have access to high-quality data to ensure they can make the best decisions about what programs should be funded.

Over the coming weeks, Speaker Ryan and the Task Force will release five additional pillars of their policy proposal “to get America back on track,” some of which are expected to include concrete legislative proposals.  NLIHC will monitor any new legislative proposals that incorporate Task Force housing recommendations to ensure that the poorest families receiving housing assistance do not lose their safety net.

Read the GOP anti-poverty plan at:

A Statement from Diane Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC, is here: