Coalition on Human Needs Hosts Briefing on Alleviating Poverty and Expanding Opportunity

The Coalition on Human Needs, in conjunction with cosponsors including NLIHC, hosted a Congressional briefing Thursday, June 16 entitled “What Works - and What Doesn’t - to Reduce Poverty and Expand Opportunity.” Speakers and panelists critiqued the House Republican anti-poverty plan and discussed a broad range of evidence-based poverty-reduction measures they hoped would be implemented in the future.

Amidst discussion of the importance of nutritional assistance, childcare support, and just labor policies, David Bowers, NLIHC board member and vice president of the mid-Atlantic region for Enterprise Community Partners, emphasized the role that housing policy reform must play in combatting poverty. He urged the expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), a program that assists with the development of affordable housing. Mr. Bowers also advocated for the creation of universal housing vouchers and reform of the mortgage interest deduction (MID), in addition to lauding the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF) for “bringing new money into the [affordable housing] system.”

Olivia Golden of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) opened the briefing with a conversation with LaJuana Clark, a security officer, student, and native Washingtonian. Ms. Clark described the challenge of juggling a job, a full course load, and a continuous struggle to make ends meet. Ms. Golden remarked that Ms. Clark’s situation unfortunately was typical. She explained that the majority of those struggling financially in the U.S. are working, pursuing education, caring for a family—defying unfair representations of the poor.

Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress criticized the Republican anti-poverty plan, contending that the plan operates on flawed premises. The first mistaken premise, she stated, was a misunderstanding of the nature of poverty. Ms. Boteach said that, contradictory to the stereotype of the poor being lazy or apathetic, far too many struggling individuals “are working in low-wage, dead-end jobs, and when they are unemployed, they’re looking for jobs.” She said that “when you mischaracterize poverty, it’s easy to mischaracterize the safety net,” leading into an explanation of the second flawed premise: the assumption that the existing social safety net is defunct and wasteful. Ms. Boteach emphasized that, without programs like Social Security, nutritional assistance, and low income tax credits in place, our nation’s poverty levels would be far higher. She warned that Republican proposals, including cuts to Pell Grants and jobless benefits and the block granting of relief programs, pose a significant threat to some of the impactful programs already in place.

Both Ms. Boteach and Liz Schott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities emphasized that federal assistance programs similar to the largely ineffective Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program should be avoided as anti-poverty policy-making proceeds.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) briefly spoke at the briefing as well. Leader Pelosi stated that Republican policy proposals would exacerbate poverty. She added that policy should “lift up the dignity and worth of every person,” particularly those in our nation who are the most vulnerable.