For his first State of the Union address in his new role as Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has invited a group of guests aimed at demonstrating that developing local organizations, rather than relying on government, is the solution to the problem of poverty in America.
A ThinkProgress examination of the people Ryan has chosen to feature, however, shows that several have received significant government assistance for their nonprofits.
In a statement released Monday, Ryan announced that six “front line poverty fighters” would be among his guests for President Obama’s Tuesday address. “The answer to poverty isn’t the money in Washington,” he said. “The answer to poverty is entrepreneurs and innovators like these who are actually making a difference, community by community.”
But the people Ryan invited would seem to undermine his suggestion that government does not play an important role in reducing poverty.
Robert Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington, D.C., is, according to Ryan, “[w]idely considered to be the ‘godfather’ of the movement to empower neighborhood-based organizations.” His organization’s most recent IRS disclosure filing indicates that of the $3,670,017 the tax-exempt group received in revenue in 2014, about three-quarters ($2,734,612) came from government grants. At least $1 million of those grants came from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Free Zone Multi-State Mentoring Initiative. The year before, $2,745,528 of the group’s $3,480,823 in revenue (more than 78 percent) came from taxpayer dollars.
Pastor Omar Jahwar, founder of Vision Regeneration in Dallas, is identified by Ryan as leading an organization that “provides gang prevention, counseling, and mentoring services to 17 Dallas public schools.” His about.me biography describes him also as a “grant recipient from the City of Dallas for youth crime initiatives.” His group’s last IRS filing in 2009 showed that more than 10 percent ($78,754 of the $733,446) of the group’s funding came from government grants. In 2002, the City of Dallas authorized a $20,000 economic development grant for the group.
A 2010 Associated Press story about Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)’s proposed Youth PROMISE Act quoted Jahwar describing the bill and its $1.6 billion in anti-gang grants as a potential “lifeline for us and a lifeline for many other organizations.”
Bishop Shirley Holloway’s D.C.-based House of Help City of Hope is described by Ryan as having “helped more than 40,000 people dealing with addiction and homelessness.” While the group’s most recent filings do not show any government grants in its six-figure annual revenue, a 2005 press release from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Partnerships and Grants Development notes the group was selected to participate in its 2004–2005 Strengthening Partners Initiative, a capacity building program for “for emerging nonprofit and faith-based organizations.”
A fourth guest, recording studio founder Antong Lucky, was program director of Vision Regeneration from 2000 to 2005.
Ryan has frequently attempted to push the claim that the War on Poverty has been a failure, arguing, “after a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates — 45 million people in poverty.” But that misleading stat has been widely debunked, noting that the way we calculate poverty has changed and the number of people living in poverty, by 1960s standards, has dropped significantly thanks to programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
While developing local nonprofits and entrepreneurs who know their community best is an important part of the puzzle, their success requires funding. Even for many of Ryan’s model groups, “the money in Washington” and state and local government grants has been vital to making their efforts possible.