Tag Archives: food stamps

Walker proposes new welfare work requirements

Parents who work fewer than 80 hours a month could face food stamp benefit cuts under a proposal Gov. Scott Walker released this week.

Walker’s proposal also would require adults with children between age 6 and 18 to attend job training and search for work five days a week.

The proposals are part of a package called “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” that Walker released during a series of news conferences across the state.

Under current state law, childless adults in the FoodShare program have to meet the work requirement. They lose all food stamp benefits after three months of non-compliance.

Since the law took effect in April 2015, about 64,000 have lost their benefits.

Under Walker’s new proposal, adults with children who don’t meet the program’s work requirements would face a “partial” reduction in benefits. The governor didn’t say how much the loss in benefits could be.

Walker also is calling for a similar work requirement for people receiving housing vouchers from the federal government.

His proposals could require law changes by Congress and waivers from the Trump administration before taking effect. They would also have to pass the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Walker has been saying that he hopes to work closely with the Trump administration on a variety of initiatives, including on welfare. Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018 and will be spelling out his priorities for the next two years in the state budget he releases next month.

The governor provided few details of the welfare reform package this week, saying those would come in the budget.

Both of the new work requirements would begin as pilot programs, but Walker didn’t say where. His outline also doesn’t say how much the new requirements would cost.

Walker said he also reduce child-care assistance from the state once people become employed. Once someone becomes employed and hits 200 percent of the poverty line, the person would start contributing $1 copay for child care for every $3 earned.

Walker also is calling on the Trump administration to clear the way for the state to drug test some welfare recipients.

“We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline not a hammock,” Walker said.

Robert Kraig, with the progressive advocacy group Wisconsin Citizen Action, criticized Walker’s proposals, saying they will do nothing to help create more family supporting jobs. Kraig said Walker was penalizing low-income residents for their own poverty.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker wants to create one set of rules for working families and another set of rules for the wealthy and well-connected.

“For too many hardworking Wisconsin families, Gov. Walker’s race-to-the-bottom economy is not working for them. Republican tax breaks that favor millionaires and corporations are shifting a greater burden onto workers,” Shilling said. “Since Gov. Walker took office in 2011, Wisconsin has fallen below the national average for job creation for 20 consecutive quarters. If Gov. Walker really wants to help workers and grow our middle class, Democrats stand ready with a range of proposals to raise family wages, lower student loan debt, invest in infrastructure and expand child care tax credits. It’s time we reward hard work, not the wealthy and well-connected.”

 

Will Trump cut healthy school lunches, food labels and safety inspections?

Will Donald Trump remake school lunches into his fast-food favorites of burgers and fried chicken when he’s president?

Children grumbling about the rules for  healthier school lunches rules championed by first lady Michelle Obama may have reason to cheer Trump’s election as the billionaire businessman is a proud patron of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s. And he’s promised to curb federal regulations.

The Obama administration has made healthier, safer and better labeled food a priority in the last eight years, significantly raising the profile of food policy and sometimes drawing the ire of Republicans, farmers and the food industry. The first lady made reducing childhood obesity one of her signature issues through her “Let’s Move” campaign.

In addition to the healthier rules for school lunches, the administration ushered a sweeping food safety law through Congress, pushed through several new food labeling regulations, started to phase out trans fats, added calorie labels to menus and suggested new limits on sodium in packaged foods. The White House has also fended off efforts in the Republican Congress to trim the nation’s food stamp program.

“Food advocates are already nostalgic for the Obama era and will be playing defense for the next four years,” says Sam Kass, a former White House senior adviser on nutrition and personal chef for the Obamas.

A look at some of the food regulations that could be scrapped — or tweaked — in the new administration:

MAKING SCHOOL MEALS UNHEALTHY AGAIN

Trump himself hasn’t weighed in on regulations for school lunches. But Republicans, school nutrition directors and some in the food industry have balked at parts of the administration’s rules that set stricter fat, sugar and sodium limits, among other standards, on foods in the lunch line and beyond. While many students and schools have now gotten used to the healthier foods, some still complain that the standards are costly and difficult to meet.

“I would be very surprised if we don’t see some major changes on the school lunch program” and some other food issues, said Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Agriculture Department spending.

Aderholt, who sits on Trump’s agriculture advisory committee, says the Obama administration’s approach was “activist driven” and people who voted for Trump are looking for a more common-sense approach.

Legislation is pending in both the House and Senate to revise some of the standards, and will likely be considered again next year. USDA could also make some changes on its own.

One of many names that have been floated as a possible agriculture secretary is Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who repealed a state ban on deep fryers and soda machines at schools. Miller recently got in trouble when he used a profanity on Twitter to describe Democrat Hillary Clinton; he blamed a staffer and the tweet was deleted.

FOOD SAFETY A HASSLE TO FARMERS

In September, the Trump campaign pitched rolling back food safety regulations in a fact sheet, arguing they are burdensome to farmers and criticizing increased inspections of food manufacturing facilities as “overkill.” The sheet referred to the “food police” at the Food and Drug Administration. The campaign later deleted the proposal from its website.

Congress passed new food safety regulations in 2010, a year after a salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut company killed nine people. Michael Taylor, former FDA deputy commissioner for foods who oversaw the food safety rules, says it wouldn’t be popular with consumers to roll them back.

“Consumers are only getting more focused on safety, health and wellness,” Taylor says.

Trump himself is a self-professed germaphobe who prefers eating at fast-food restaurants because he believes they have higher food safety standards.

FOOD STAMPS

Congressional Republicans have been examining food stamps since the program’s cost grew to almost $80 billion annually after the recession. Participation and costs have dipped since its 2013 high, but conservatives have suggested tightening eligibility standards or increasing work requirements. House Speaker Paul Ryan has for years championed an overhaul to the program.

Democrats in the Senate have consistently objected to any changes, and will still wield influence. But they won’t have the backing of a Democratic White House.

OTHER FOOD POLICY

Many other laws are either already in place or close to it, including a revised “nutrition facts” panel on the back of food packages, with a new line breaking out added sugars, a labeling law for genetically modified foods and calorie labeling on restaurant and supermarket menus.

In many cases, the rules are a result of compromise with industry. Kass says that pulling back may just create more cost and uncertainty for businesses.

“Unwinding things is really hard, especially when most of them have been implemented and industry has moved on,” Kass says.

He predicts most of the regulations will stay, but that there will be little additional progress. Ongoing administration efforts to reduce sodium in food and antibiotics in meat could be casualties.

Margo Wootan, a lobbyist on nutrition issues for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says advocates will continue to be aggressive at the state and local levels, hoping change will bubble up.

“The public is more interested than ever in nutrition and will continue to press companies,” she says.

 

Report: 41,000 lost food stamps in Wisconsin last year

A new report from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration says more than 41,000 people lost access to food stamps in the first year of a new state law requiring them to seek employment.

The state Department of Health Services report also shows that nearly 12,000 people found jobs thanks to a new training program for those on the food stamp program.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Walker is praising the law backed by Republicans that he signed.

Walker says what many critics don’t account for is that many people find work on their own when told of the law’s requirements.

DHS spokeswoman Claire Yunker says the department does not track how many of those who are eligible for the program found work on their own.

Bill to ban local government IDs goes to Walker

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a bill that would stall Milwaukee’s efforts to provide local photo IDs to the homeless, immigrants in the country illegally and others who have difficulty obtaining state IDs.

The Republican bill would prohibit towns and counties from spending money on or issuing photo IDs. It would also prohibit using city or village ID cards to vote or obtain public benefits, like food stamps.

Opponents call the bill anti-immigrant and say it’s aimed at Milwaukee plans to issue local IDs to assist with everyday tasks like opening a bank account. The bill’s supporters say it will reduce confusion and fraud.

The Senate passed the bill 19-13 Feb. 16. The Assembly followed suit hours later, approving the measure 62-35. It goes next to Gov. Scott Walker.

New USDA rules could improve choices for consumers with food stamps

The Agriculture Department unveiled new rules on on Feb. 16 that would require retailers who accept food stamps to stock a wider variety of healthy foods or face the loss of business as consumers shop elsewhere.

The proposed rules are designed to ensure that the more than 46 million Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods although they don’t dictate what people buy or eat. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase as much junk food as they wanted, but they would at least have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.

“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”

In 2014, Congress required the Agriculture Department to develop regulations to make sure that stores that accept food stamp dollars, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, stock a wider array of healthy food choices.

Under current rules, SNAP retailers must stock at least three varieties of foods in each of four food groups: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats, poultry and fish. The new rules would require the retailers to stock seven varieties in each food group, and at least three of the food groups would have to include perishable items. In all, the rules would require stores to stock at least 168 items that USDA considers healthy.

The proposal would also require that retailers have enough in stock of each item so that the foods would be continuously available.

The rules could mean that fewer convenience stores qualify to be SNAP retailers. The convenience store industry has argued that it often operates the only stores that serve certain neighborhoods and at certain times, like overnight. Concannon said the department would try to ensure that the rules don’t affect SNAP recipients’ access to food retailers, and the department may consider waiving the proposed requirements in some areas.

The rules come as a key House Republican is pushing for drug tests for food stamp recipients and new cuts to the program.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees USDA spending, introduced a bill earlier in February that would allow states to require drug testing. The move is designed to help states like Wisconsin, where conservative Republican Gov. Scott Walker has sued the federal government, to permit screening.

USDA has pushed back on such efforts, as it did when Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to cut 5 percent from the program during negotiations over the 2014 farm bill. The push comes as SNAP use has skyrocketed — the program served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion last year. That’s twice the program’s 2008 cost.

“While I have not seen Rep. Aderholt’s proposed legislation, I have serious concerns about an approach that could deprive a family of access to food and basic necessities simply because a member of the family is struggling with addiction,” Vilsack said after Aderholt introduced the bill.

1 million could lose food stamps in 21 states, including Wisconsin

More than 1 million low-income residents in 21 states could soon lose their government food stamps if they fail to meet work requirements that began kicking in this month.

The rule change in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was triggered by the improving economy – specifically, falling unemployment. But it is raising concerns among the poor, social service providers and food pantry workers, who fear an influx of hungry people.

Recent experience in other states indicates that most of those affected will probably not meet the work requirements and will be cut off from food stamps.

For many people, “it means less food, less adequate nutrition. And over the span of time, that can certainly have an impact on health – and the health care system,” said Dave Krepcho, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Advocates say some adults trying to find work face a host of obstacles, including criminal records, disabilities or lack of a driver’s license.

The work-for-food requirements were first enacted under the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton and sponsored by then-Rep. John Kasich, who is now Ohio’s governor and a Republican candidate for president.

The provision applies to able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents in their home. It requires them to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month to receive food aid. If they don’t, their benefits are cut off after three months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture can waive those work rules, either for entire states or certain counties and communities, when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. Nearly every state was granted a waiver during the recession that began in 2008. But statewide waivers ended this month in at least 21 states, the largest group since the recession.

An Associated Press analysis of food aid figures shows that nearly 1.1 million adults stand to lose their benefits in those 21 states if they do not get a job or an exemption. That includes about 300,000 in Florida, 150,000 in Tennessee and 110,000 in North Carolina. The three states account for such a big share because they did not seek any further waivers for local communities.

In Tennessee, Terry Work said her 27-year-old deaf son recently was denied disability payments, meaning he is considered able-bodied. And that means he stands to lose his food stamps, even though she said her son has trouble keeping a job because of his deafness.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of people in the county hurt by this,” said Work, founder of Helping Hands of Hickman County, a social service agency in a community about an hour west of Nashville.

Nationwide, some 4.7 million food stamp recipients are deemed able-bodied adults without dependents, according to USDA. Only 1 in 4 has any income from a job. They receive an average of $164 a month from the program.

In states that already have implemented the work requirements, many recipients have ended up losing their benefits.

Wisconsin began phasing in work requirements last spring. Of the 22,500 able-bodied adults who became subject to the change between April and June, two-thirds were dropped from the rolls three months later for failing to meet the requirements.

Some states could have applied for partial waivers but chose not to do so.

North Carolina’s Republican-led government enacted a law last fall accelerating implementation of the work requirements and barring the state from seeking waivers unless there is a natural disaster. State Sen. Ralph Hise said the state was doing a disservice to the unemployed by providing them long-term food aid.

“People are developing gaps on their resumes, and it’s actually making it harder for individuals to ultimately find employment,” said Hise, a Republican who represents a rural part of western North Carolina.

In Missouri, the GOP-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to enact a law barring the state from waiving work requirements until at least 2019. The three-month clock started ticking Jan. 1 for 60,000 people in Missouri, where unemployment is down to just 4.4 percent.

“We were seeing a lot of people who were receiving food stamps who weren’t even trying to get a job,” said the law’s sponsor, Sen. David Sater, a Republican whose Missouri district includes the tourist destination of Branson. “I know in my area you can find a temporary job for 20 hours (a week) fairly easily. It just didn’t seem right to me to have somebody doing nothing and receiving food stamps.”

Others say it’s not that simple to find work, even with an improving economy.

Joe Heflin, 33, of Jefferson City, said he has been receiving food stamps for more than five years, since an injury ended his steady job as an iron worker and led to mental illness during his recovery. He said he gets nearly $200 a month in food stamps and has no other income. Heflin was recently notified that his food stamps could end if he doesn’t get a job or a disability exemption.

“I think it’s a crummy deal,” Heflin said while waiting in line at a food pantry. “I think they ought to look into individuals more, or at least hear them out. … I depend on it, you know, to eat.”

Policymakers often “don’t realize a lot of the struggles those individuals are dealing with,” said Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Some are dealing with trauma from military service or exposure to violence and abuse, Chilton said. Others have recently gotten out of prison, making employers hesitant to hire them. Some adults who are considered able-bodied nonetheless have physical or mental problems.

A study of 4,145 food stamp recipients in Franklin County, Ohio, who became subject to work requirements between December 2013 and February 2015 found that more than 30 percent said they had physical or mental limitations that affected their ability to work. A similar percentage had no high school diploma or equivalency degree. And 61 percent lacked a driver’s license.

“There should have been more thought on how we look at employment and not thinking that people are sitting there, getting food stamps because they are lazy and don’t want to work,” said Octavia Rainey, a community activist in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Some states have programs to help food stamp recipients improve their job skills. Elsewhere, it’s up to individuals to find programs run by nonprofit groups or by other state agencies. Sometimes, that can be daunting.

Rainey said people who received letters informing them they could lose their food stamps sometimes were placed on hold when they called for more information – a problem for those using prepaid calling cards. And in Florida, food aid recipients received letters directing them to a state website for information.

“A lot of these folks, they don’t have computers, they don’t have broadband access,” said Krepcho, the Central Florida food bank executive. “That’s ripe for people falling off the rolls.”

Analysis: GOP’s deficit reduction promises are unfeasible without tax increases and program cuts that they’ll never support

Thanks to Congress’ recent tax-and-spending spree, Republicans vowing to balance the budget will have to raise taxes and propose far deeper cuts than the public would accept.

If the GOP should won the White House in 2016, those promises — the same ones they make in every election cycle — are likely to come back and haunt them. The last president to balance the budet was Democrat Bill Clinton, who presided over an era of great prosperity that’s not likely to be equaled in the near future. 

In fact, the weakening economy that the nation is currently experiencing means Republicans will have to dig even further into the budget to find sufficient spending cuts to balance the budget, according to the latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office. The budget — a non-binding wish list of cuts and policies — was already unrealistic, promising cuts that lawmakers have never shown they’d be willing to make.

Last year, for instance, Republicans promised more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over a decade. Instead, they worked with President Barack Obama to add about $750 billion to the deficit over the decade through a mix of spending increases and permanent tax cuts. Even a token effort to curb the federal crop insurance program was immediately reversed after a revolt by farm state lawmakers.

Now, the dismal fiscal picture, budget experts say, would mean Republicans would have to slash more than $2 trillion over 10 years, with the most draconian cuts required in the final years. That’s assuming they will still try to balance the budget.

“Realistically speaking, that’s just not going to happen,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington group that advocates for lower deficits.

With Social Security, the Pentagon and most of Medicare insulated politically from cuts, Republicans are likely to call for even further reductions to programs like Medicaid, domestic agency budgets, student loan subsidies and food stamps.

The GOP chairmen of the House and Senate Budget panels insist they will find a way.

“It’s not only realistic but essential,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said of balancing the budget. “This country is going to be bankrupt if we don’t do something.”

Under Congress’ arcane budget process, lawmakers vote first on a broad, non-binding outline called a budget resolution — which is akin to the blueprints for a house — and then use follow-up legislation to fill in the details. The second-step of votes to implement the budget are invariably more difficult than the first.

Congress does a lot more bragging about budget blueprints than actually trying to enact them. House Republicans boast but they’ve never drafted legislation detailing how they would turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for most future retirees or cut Medicaid funding by about one-fifth — and force many millions of people from health coverage or nursing home care.

Even architects of the budget acknowledge that there’s no stomach to actually try to impose its cuts.

“The critical mass does not yet exist in the country or the Congress that recognizes that we need to save and strengthen and secure these mandatory programs,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga. Price was referring to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, whose mandatory budgets grow automatically unless Congress cuts them.

So in some ways the budget process is perfect for politicians: It gives them a chance to tell voters they’re cutting spending even as they avoid the politically dangerous votes required to actually do it.

The budget process also fits into Speaker Paul Ryan’s vision for using the House agenda to tell voters what they’ll get if Republicans win the White House. The annual budget debate will come before efforts to replace the health care law or reveal the party’s plans to update the loophole-clogged tax code after five years of controlling the House.

Conspicuously left off the agenda? Emphasizing spending cuts, even as the deficit has begun growing again and the latest estimates reveal trillion-dollar deficits returning in just a few years.

“Clearly that’s going to take a Republican president because this president has continued to kick the can down the road and I see no change in his behavior,” Ryan, R-Wis., said recently.

But it’s by no means clear that balancing the budget will be a top priority for presidential candidates who have promised big tax cuts and aren’t really talking about the issue on the campaign trail. If there is a GOP president next year, he will have to answer questions about living up to the balanced-budget promises of Republicans in Congress.

If a GOP president embraces a balanced budget, they’ll have to offer an enormously difficult set of cuts to Republican lawmakers unschooled in what balancing the budget really means.

“The magnitude of the policy changes that you would have to implement to achieve the savings that are promised in the budget — I don’t think there’s an appreciation for the magnitude of those changes,” said Neil Bradley, a former top House GOP aide who now works for the Conservative Reform Network, which offers policy advice to GOP candidates and lawmakers.

Obama submits his budget Feb. 9, and House and Senate Republicans promise floor debates on their alternatives in March.

15 groups challenge Walker’s plan to require drug tests for public aid

A coalition of 15 groups is challenging Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to require applicants for and recipients of public assistance and unemployment insurance to pass drug tests.

The organizations joined in a letter to the Republican governor and legislators, writing in advance of Walker’s budget address. They coalition includes advocates for low-income Wisconsinites, members of Wisconsin’s faith community, advocates for Wisconsin women, representatives of organized labor and national organizations.

The letter raises numerous questions about the governor’s proposal.

David R. Riemer, a senior fellow at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, said in a news release, “Gov. Walker’s proposal raises a series of important questions for policymakers to address before going full steam into removing Wisconsinites from public assistance and unemployment insurance for not passing drug tests. These questions concern the constitutionality of the plan, its costs, the many new processes that will have to be implemented, and evidence about whether the plan would improve public health and is cost effective.”

He added, “Even if all of these questions are answered, drug testing is hardly a wise policy solution for greatly increasing employment and reducing poverty in Wisconsin.”

The letter suggests that policymakers look to evidence-based solutions that could dramatically reduce poverty and help Wisconsinites get back to work, including:

• Expanding the state’s transitional jobs program.

• Restoring and expanding the state earned income tax credit and Homestead Credit.

• Raising the state’s minimum wage.

• Expanding BadgerCare to cover all adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.  

The groups include: Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, Wisconsin Council of Churches, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP), Wisconsin Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative, Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, Justice Initiatives Institute, Project RETURN, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Jobs Now, AFSCME Council 40, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and National Employment Law Project (NELP).

On the Web …

Read the letter.

Census: 1 in 5 children on food stamps

Sixteen million children were on food stamps as of last year, the highest number since the nation’s economy tumbled in 2008.

Numbers released by the Census Bureau as part of its annual look at children and families show that one in five children were on food stamp assistance in 2014. The survey was taken last spring.

The number of people receiving food stamps – now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – spiked through the recession and has stayed at a higher level since. In the 2007 Census survey, 9 million children received SNAP assistance.

Participation and spending appear to be going down, though. The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the government spent $76 billion on SNAP last year, down 8 percent from the year before. That was the first time spending went down since the beginning of the recession.

Around 46.5 million people received food stamps last year, according to the Agriculture Department, which oversees the aid, up from around 26 million in 2007. Participation is expected to decrease over the next 10 years, though higher food costs could keep spending up.

Half of the children receiving food stamps in the Census survey – 8 million – were living only with their mothers. Around 5 million children receiving food stamps lived with married parents.

The spike in food stamp spending has caught the attention of Congress, and House Republicans tried to cut the program by around $4 billion a year in 2013. In an eventual compromise, Congress agreed to cuts of around $800 million a year, policy that was signed into law by President Barack Obama early last year as part of a larger farm bill. Since then, many states have found ways to get around the cuts.

The SNAP program will still be under scrutiny in the new Republican Congress. The new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, and the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, are both expected to take a look at food stamp spending in the coming year.

Billy Shore, the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, a national anti-hunger group, said childhood hunger doesn’t get enough attention. His group is pushing Congress to leave the food stamp program untouched and to find new ways to end childhood poverty.

“These kids are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the situation in which they find themselves,” he said.

Ryan budget plan would slash aid to poor

A budget plan stuffed with familiar proposals to cut across a wide swath of the federal budget breezed through the House Budget Committee this week, but its sharp cuts to health care coverage for the middle class and the poor, food stamps and popular domestic programs are a nonstarter with President Barack Obama.

The GOP-controlled committee approved the plan by a party-line vote after swatting away numerous Democratic attempts to ease its cuts. The plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the committee chairman and the party’s former vice presidential nominee, promises $5.1 trillion in cuts over the coming decade to bring the government’s ledger into the black by 2024.

The plan is a dead letter with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama, but gives Republicans a vehicle to polish their budget-cutting credentials in the run-up to fall midterm elections in which they’re counting on a big turnout from GOP conservatives and the tea party.

Ryan’s plan would wrestle the government’s deficits under control after a decade, relying on deep cuts to Medicaid, highway construction, federal employee pension benefits, food and heating aid to the poor and Pell Grants for college students from low-income families. It would eliminate health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act while assuming the government keeps $1 trillion worth of Obamacare’s tax increases, and retains a 10-year, $700 billion cut to Medicare that Democrats drove through in 2010 when passing the health care law.

Republicans say such tough cuts are required to take on deficits that threaten to sap the economy of its strength in coming years as government borrowing squeezes out savings and investment and spiraling costs of federal retirement and health care programs promise to swamp taxpayers. Ryan cited Congressional Budget Office studies that show curbing deficits and debt would lead to a healthier economy in the long term — and claims $74 billion in such macroeconomic effects to promise a balanced budget in 2024.

“Just as a weak economy can drag the budget into the red, a responsible budget can help propel the economy forward,” Ryan said. “If Washington is serious about helping working families — or serious about getting families out of work back to work — then it needs to get serious about the national debt.”

But Democrats cast Ryan’s plan as an all-out assault on the poor and working class. More than $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid over 10 years would force hundreds of thousands of seniors from nursing home care, for instance, while $135 billion cut from food stamps and other nutrition aid would increase hunger. Eliminating a mandatory funding stream for Pell Grants would mean fewer poor kids could dream of college, they said, while cuts to education, scientific research and NASA would harm U.S. competitiveness.

“This dog-eat-dog budget is nothing short of an assault on Americans struggling to stay afloat economically. It absolutely decimates safety net programs — like (food stamps) and Medicaid – designed to stop people from falling into deep poverty,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the budget panel.

The GOP’s top vote counter promised Wednesday that the Ryan budget would pass the House next week despite resistance from conservatives uneasy over higher spending for agency budgets in 2015, in line with a small-bore budget pact negotiated in December by Ryan and the head of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in December.

“It’ll pass,” promised Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

Under Congress’ arcane budgeting rules, the annual budget resolution is a non-binding blueprint that tries to set broad goals for follow-up legislation on taxes, agency spending and curbs on the growth of expensive benefit programs like Medicare, whose budgets go up every year as if on autopilot.

As such, the annual budget debate allows GOP lawmakers to go on record in favor of spending cuts big and small – whether it’s slashing Medicaid, cutting subsidies for farmers and Amtrak, or further cuts to domestic agencies like the Transportation Security Administration – without having to follow through with binding legislation.

So every spring, the House goes on record to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for money-losing flights into rural airports and cut community development grants to state and local governments, for example, only to have GOP appropriators scramble to replace them later on when adopting a binding spending bill.

Ryan’s budget brings back a now-familiar list of spending cuts: $2.1 trillion over 10 years in health care subsidies and coverage under the Affordable Care Act; $732 billion in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs; almost $1 trillion in cuts to other benefit programs like food stamps, Pell Grants and farm subsidies. Hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts are not identified at all.

While repealing Obamacare’s benefits, the GOP plan relies on its tax increases and cuts to providers to promise balance, including reductions to private insurers under the Medicare Advantage program. Republicans have attacked Democrats for the Medicare cuts used to finance the health law.

The measure also reprises a proposal to dramatically reshape Medicare for future retirees, providing those who now are 55 or younger with a federal subsidy to buy health insurance on the open market.

Republicans say that makes Medicare sustainable with savings created by lower annual cost increases than traditional Medicare. Critics cite studies that predict the voucher-like plan would mean considerably higher out-of-pocket costs as it is phased in.

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