Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan sat down with NPR to discuss, among other things, poverty. As the highest ranking member of the House, Ryan has a crucial opportunity to change the way the government addresses poverty. In his plans to confront this issue, Ryan keeps community efforts and local solutions central.
During the last four years, Ryan made visits to several poverty-stricken areas with community organizer Bob Woodson in order to better understand the challenges these struggling communities face. Through these visits, Ryan recognized the influence of community groups and the importance of supporting the efforts of those who have found and are implementing effective local programs.
I see problems that can be fixed because I see solutions that are actually occurring. That’s what’s exciting about this issue … because there are people in communities who are actually out there fighting poverty eye to eye, soul to soul, in neighborhoods that actually do well, that succeed …
… I want to make sure that in these communities we actually empower these groups, we empower these people. We take their lessons and we reapply them throughout the rest of this country.
Speaker Ryan emphasized the power of local institutions, including churches, governments, and community organizations to tackle the issue of poverty in a way that is able to address the individual.
And the only way you can do that is not micromanage in Washington; is to actually customize benefits … Let’s break up the welfare monopoly, instead of having just the welfare agency at the county level give people their benefits … They don’t actually treat the person. Let other providers also provide these full-scale wraparound benefits. Let the Catholic Church do it. Let Lutheran social services. Let America Works, a for-profit agency that’s good at this.
Ryan continually emphasizes partnership with local communities and the leaders of those communities. He wants to use this same partnership strategy to help address poor relationships between law enforcement and members of impoverished and minority communities. He tells a story about a successful church-facilitated partnership between community members and the local law enforcement agency.
I was talking to my friend Buster Suarez, who is a black pastor in Somerset, N.J., [at the] First Baptist Church there. Buster and the other black leaders in Somerset, a low-income community, worked with local law enforcement to set up a group that has instantaneous communications whenever something wrong occurs. And they’ve … basically fused and merged the minority community with the police department in a very effective way and they have a community policing system that works really, really well.
In his focus on community solutions to the pressing issues of poverty and crime, Ryan addresses the importance of subsidiarity and humility in government. Using federal support to enhance, not destroy, local initiatives would be a positive step in the direction towards a more just and peaceful country.