NC Budget and Tax Center

Policymakers should be wary of most policy proposals discussed at the Kemp Forum on Poverty

2016 may be the year that families working in low-wage jobs get the spotlight that they deserve from policymakers. Policymakers and candidates on both sides of the political spectrum are finally discussing economic policies that they purport will improve the lives of people who work hard to provide for their families but struggle to afford the basics.

Several Republican presidential candidates turned their attention to economic hardship and income inequality at the Kemp Forum on Poverty last weekend. In a positive development, one candidate voiced his support for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income childless workers so they can keep more of what they earn and make ends meet. Another candidate lifted up the benefit of adopting and expanding state EITCs—advice that is in line with a growing body of research that shows how the credit helps at every stage of life. Both policies would reduce poverty for children and families.

Unfortunately, such endorsements for stronger EITCs are out-of-step with GOP policy choices here in North Carolina, where state lawmakers axed the state credit in 2013—despite the fact that in one in three Tar Heel workers earn poverty-level wages.

While it is welcome news for candidates to pay unprecedented attention to poverty, it is concerning that a good share of the discussion falsely portrayed fundamental truths about poverty trends, the effectiveness of work and income supports (i.e. the safety net), and how the proposals discussed would in reality increase material hardship and poverty.

Robert Greenstein, the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, is one of the top anti-poverty experts in the nation and had this to say about the forum:

“They [the candidates] sometimes misrepresented basic facts and research about poverty and anti-poverty programs.  Some advanced proposals that would likely increase poverty and hardship rather than reduce them.  While various candidates and Speaker Ryan talked about “results” and “impacts,” and Ryan has elsewhere called for “evidence-based policymaking,” some speakers advocated ending programs that have been shown to be successful — such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) — and offered proposals that conflict with the evidence.

In addition, while many GOP candidates have called for deep tax cuts that would sharply shrink federal revenues, and many have also called for balancing the budget, no candidate or other speaker explained today how they could pursue these goals without severely cutting basic assistance for the poor.”

Greenstein has all of the details here on how the proposals—from tax cuts to budget plans to block grant proposals—would lead to more economic hardship for people who are struggling to make ends meet.

The Kemp forum illustrates that genuine and sustained attention is needed when it comes to poverty and economic hardship. But the spotlight will fail to lead to reduced hardship and broader opportunity—which benefits all of us—if those policy conversations are not rooted in an honest portrayal of poverty and research findings on anti-poverty initiatives. Candidates and current policymakers must do better.

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