GOP candidates offer plans to tackle poverty

In the aftermath of the Baltimore riots, attention is once again being turned to questions of poverty, and inner-city poverty in particular.

Democrats, unsurprisingly, took about 30 seconds to think about the issue before coming up with their favorite solution: spend more money.

What does the GOP offer as an alternative? The major Republican presidential candidates have actually had quite a bit to say on the issue.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offers perhaps the most detailed and well-thought-out set of policy proposals. Rubio would consolidate most of the more than 100 current federal anti-poverty programs and send the funding for them back to the states as block grants.

Unlike a similar but much smaller plan put forward by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Rubio’s block grants would come with few strings. States would be free to use the money in any way that they chose, as long as the spending is consistent with the broad purpose of the programs they are replacing.

A state could not use the funds to reduce taxes on businesses, for instance. Within those limits, states would be free to be, in Justice Brandeis’s famous phrase, “laboratories of democracy,” experimenting with a wide variety of innovative approaches to fighting poverty. And successful states would be rewarded. If a state reduced its poverty rate, its allocation would not be reduced, and the state could use the money however it wished — for education or infrastructure, for example. Rubio would also revamp the earned-income tax credit to make it a better wage enhancement.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also has spent a great deal of time talking about disadvantaged communities. While his proposals to fight over-criminalization and reduce incarceration for inner-city youth have garnered the most attention, Paul has also pushed proposals to attract more business and jobs to high-poverty areas.

In particular, Paul has called for the creation of Economic Freedom Zones in cities with high unemployment or high poverty rates. Income taxes for both individuals and businesses in the zones would be reduced to a flat 5 percent, and the payroll tax would be cut by 2 percentage points for both the employer and the employee.

As the election nears you are looking at a clear contrast between a party locked into the tired and failed policies of yesterday, and one seeking new ideas and new directions.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Send comments to