When she speaks about poverty and inequality on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton often mentions one plan that stands out in its simplicity: Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “10-20-30” formula.
The concept championed by the South Carolina Democrat is simple: steering 10 percent of federal investments to neighborhoods where 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years.
10% of federal spending on discretionary programs committed to communities where at least
20% of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last
Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, told McClatchy that he’d discussed the plan with Clinton when she was in Charleston for a Democratic presidential debate last January. Since then, she has often brought it up on the stump.
“I’m a big fan of Congressman Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 plan,” she said last week in a speech at the joint National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Washington. “We need that kind of focused, targeted investment in urban places wherever Americans have been left out and left behind.”
I’m a big fan of Congressman Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 plan.
She also praised Clyburn’s plan, which has been adopted by the Congressional Black Caucus, in her July speech at the NAACP conference, saying that as president she would expand it as part of her push to invest in infrastructure.
“Ultimately, reversing the legacy of racism and underinvestment will require directing more federal resources to those who need them most,” Clinton wrote in an opinion piece in Ebony magazine. “I believe the 10-20-30 model holds promise and this principle should be expanded to other programs.”
Statistics don’t lie
Although Clinton tends to bring it up when speaking to African-American audiences, Clyburn is emphatic that the power of the formula approach is that it is impartial.
Some poverty initiatives direct their funds based on proposals and panels that evaluate a slew of different criteria, he said, and the sophistication of the system can pass over the poorest communities if they are not politically relevant or lack strong advocates.
Not so with the 10-20-30 plan.
I’ve always looked for ways to target and be creative about fighting poverty.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
“It is as straightforward as anything I’ve ever been involved in,” Clyburn said. “My whole thing is if you’re looking at fighting poverty, and you have a definition looking you in the face that has been there for generations – and I do mean generations – why not use that? It’s not like anybody can accuse you of playing favorites.”
Since his concept is based on statistics, it also puts it above partisanship, Clyburn said.
“Two-thirds of those counties are represented by Republicans, so it’s not something I am pursuing as a partisan matter,” he said. “And this formula applies as much to Latinos and Native Americans as whites.”
On the wrong side of the threshold
Matt Freedman, a professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine, said that based on his reading of Clyburn’s plan it could affect 20 million to 30 million people nationwide. These persistent-poverty communities are mainly clustered in the Deep South, Appalachia and on Native American reservations.
“The structure of 10-20-30 is very straightforward and easy to understand by both policymakers and the public,” he said in an interview.
While a number of government programs already use similar formulas to determine where to send federal dollars, according to some economists they aren’t the most efficient way to help as many people as possible.
Flip-flopping year to year creates a lot of confusion about the structure of the programs, how to apply, and (Clyburn’s plan) sort of removes any uncertainty about how it’s going to work or partisanship about how to allocate the funds.
Matt Freedman, economics professor at University of California, Irvine
“It does ensure a degree of objectivity and removes any partisan wrangling about where funds should go,” Freedman said. “But in a sense it also ties the hands of policymakers and precludes them from putting the funds to the best possible use.”
A community that just barely misses the criteria could miss out on funding that would have a quicker, deeper impact, he said.
“Some may be marginal communities on the wrong side of the threshold, where even just a little bit of extra help would have been key to getting them on a good trajectory,” Freedman said. “In some of these isolated areas that are really persistently poor, the amount of dollars we’re talking about (through Clyburn’s plan) are nowhere near what would be needed.”
10-20-30 plan in action
When Clyburn and his colleagues met with then-President-elect Barack Obama in 2009 to work on an economic recovery package, the congressman had one condition.
“I do not want to be a part of putting together a recovery package that leaves these poor communities out, as they were left out before,” Clyburn said he’d told the group. In the discussions, he explained that many communities he represented in South Carolina had been struggling since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and federal recovery programs had passed them over.
“The problem with that so-called New Deal is that for many of these communities it was a raw deal,” he said. “They got left out, and those communities to this day still suffer.”
In meetings with his staff, they decided on the 10-20-30 formula to target resources to those communities, ensuring they would not be left behind again.
Since the plan used already authorized funds and “did not add a dime” to the federal budget deficit it seemed hard to argue with, Clyburn said.
“I just said to them that something that simple and straightforward, with no regard to ethnicity or race or gender, ought to find favor,” he said.
Although it didn’t find as much support as he wanted, Clyburn kept pushing for it in meeting after meeting, until the language was adopted in the legislation. Using that approach, the Recovery Act funded 4,655 projects totaling $1.7 billion in counties that met the “persistent poverty” criteria.
Clyburn said he’d seen the impact firsthand in his district: One of the investments included a $5.8 million grant and a $2 million loan to build 51 miles of water lines in the small rural community of Britton’s Neck in Marion County.
“They had been trying to get a water system for 40 years, and were never able to do so, and now had because of this formula,” he said.
Support from across the aisle
More recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has pushed an anti-poverty plan of his own, helped Clyburn find support for the 10-20-30 plan behind the scenes. Ryan invited Clyburn to testify about it in front of the House Budget Committee, and then approached him with the idea of reaching across the aisle to Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers.
“He said to me one day that he wanted me to talk to Rogers. He thought it was something that might work,” Clyburn said.
They quickly found common ground. Rogers represents the country’s second-poorest district. Part of Clyburn’s district covers an area that has been dubbed South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame,” a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 95 flanked by persistently poor counties. In a 2014 essay for Harvard Law Journal about his 10-20-30 plan, Clyburn recalled visiting neighborhoods where people showed him clothes stained from being washed in tainted well water, and schools with collapsing roofs.
The congressmen’s staffs got together and combed through the budget, finally identifying 17 accounts that could be used, and with Rogers’ help the 10-20-30 plan was included in the House version of the 2017 agriculture appropriations bill.
Clyburn said he was optimistic about expanding the plan in the coming years.
“The thing I get all the time is that we talk about this issue, we write speeches, we write op-ed pieces, studies are done and nothing happens,” he said.
“I think something’s going to change. Her (Clinton) bringing it up and Speaker Ryan acting on it as he has thus far, I think, will ensure that this formula or something akin to it will be a tool that is going to be utilized to fight poverty,” he said.