In Orwellian Fashion, Ryan Budget 'Repairs' Safety Net by Slashing It

Mar 20, 2012

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Programs that provide health care and food assistance are squarely in the cross sights of the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.  His proposal singles out Medicaid and SNAP for cuts by converting them into block grants. Other domestic programs would also have to be slashed to achieve his proposed spending levels.

Rep. Ryan's proposal would exempt defense spending from budget cuts, take revenue increases off the table, and attempt to reduce the deficit entirely through cuts to mandatory and domestic discretionary programs.  Because Medicare and Social Security benefits for current and near retirees are exempted, deficit reduction over the next 10 years largely would occur through cuts to programs serving low-income and disabled individuals. 

The Ryan proposal would block the expansion of health coverage that is scheduled to occur in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.  It would then cut federal funding for Medicaid by more than 20 percent, and convert it to a block grant.  As the Congressional Budget Office points out, there is simply no way to achieve savings of this scale in Medicaid, which is already among the most efficient health care providers, without cutting services.  States would have to cut benefits, cut off recipients, or reduce already miserly payments to doctors and other health care providers.  These cuts would grow over time because the block grant would not keep up with the growth in health care costs.

Similarly, the budget proposal would convert Food Stamps (now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) into a block grant. While the document does not provide full details on the proposal, the overall savings projected from agricultural programs imply that Ryan envisions billions in cuts.  States would be forced to cut benefits, impose waiting lists, or both.  Either approach would increase hunger.  At the same time, states would be required use limited resources to develop new systems to monitor and track hours of work for SNAP recipients.

In an Orwellian twist, this section of the budget document is called "Repairing the Social Safety Net."  The reality is that these proposals would badly weaken an already strained system, and leave it poorly prepared for the next recession.  Lawmakers of both parties have repeatedly committed to the principle that deficit reduction should not come at the expense of vulnerable families and individuals.   By that standard, this proposal must be rejected.

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