Yesterday, Congressman Paul Ryan presented his latest “Pathway to Prosperity” budget. After examining the document, Generations United was deeply troubled by many of the proposals contained in it because they would significantly reduce funding to the critical social safety net for America’s most vulnerable children, youth and older adults. Here is our analysis of the Ryan budget.
Food and Nutrition
If enacted, Ryan’s plan would convert the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a block grant. In the long term, this would harm tens of millions of children, families, and older adults who rely on this critical safety net program. Hunger, food insecurity, and poverty are significant problems affecting millions of people in the U.S. and are expected to persist at high levels due to the weakened economy.
Additionally, the Ryan budget proposes to restructure Pell grants by “limiting the growth of financial aid and focusing it on low-income students.” Without specific language, it is hard to gauge the full impact of this proposal. When combined with additional budget cuts, this would surely limit access to this critical program that serves nearly 10 million college students.
Proposed changes to essential health programs are even more concerning. The Ryan budget calls for repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The act provides critical health benefits to an estimated 19 million children and older adults by 2019 and includes provisions that would save $418 billion in Medicare costs over 10 years. In place of the ACA, the Ryan budget proposes that employers provide a cash supplement for their employees to purchase health care on the open market. That proposal ignores the troubling question of how our nation’s most vulnerable, including the unemployed or underemployed, will access health care.
The budget also proposes to convert Medicaid to a block grant, shifting the costs and risks to states, providers, and beneficiaries. With state budgets already overstretched, that move could jeopardize access to critical health services and put states in the difficult position of choosing between providing health care coverage for children's doctor visits or long-term care for older adults.
While ensuring existing Medicare benefits for those over 55, the Ryan budget would provide an unspecified amount of money directly to younger workers and require them to buy their own coverage in a way that may not guarantee the same coverage seniors have come to trust from Medicare. While Generations United believes the nation must address Medicare spending, this proposal sets up the potential for younger workers to not receive the care they need when they age.
While the specifics in Ryan’s plan are unclear, we know his claims that it will “strengthen” Social Security are false. In reality, the provisions he has outlined would result in cuts for beneficiaries, many of whom increasingly rely on Social Security as a safeguard against poverty. Despite knowing first-hand the role Social Security plays in the lives of children and youth, Ryan refers to Social Security solely as a retirement security program. Social Security is more than a retirement program. Nearly seven million children receive part of their family income from Social Security today.
The Federal Budget
To balance the budget and reduce the deficit, the Ryan budget proposes measures that would dramatically slash spending and place children, youth and older adults at risk. These measures include relying on six separate committees to recommend cuts. These cuts would be directed at domestic spending including nutrition, Medicare, and Medicaid. Additionally, the Ryan budget would require caps on both discretionary and mandatory spending, beyond what was agreed to in the final budget agreement reached in fall 2011. Any increases to mandatory spending would require Congress to reduce other spending to pay for the increases and to “review mandatory spending programs” regularly. This sets up a dangerous situation where vital safety net services could be cut to pay for needed increases in mandatory spending. Generations United opposes any deficit reduction plan that puts the burden of cuts on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans. We must ensure that budget reduction is done in a responsible manner that truly reflects shared sacrifice, without disproportionately burdening the most vulnerable.
We at Generations United strongly support investing in our country’s economy and people. These investments include creating opportunities for vulnerable people to overcome hunger and poverty, extending the rights of today’s youth to continue their education through college, and for today’s older adults to receive affordable care on a fixed income. These investments are needed more than ever in today’s economy. If we fail to support them, we fail our commitment to the generations before and after us. The true path to prosperity is through strengthening our safety net and investing in our country; not by cutting critical supports to Americans in need and balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.