House Committee Holds Hearing on Moving Families Out of Poverty

The House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on May 24 titled “Moving America’s Families Forward: Setting Priorities for Reducing Poverty and Expanding Opportunity.” A number of witnesses spoke about the challenge of finding avenues to help America’s poorest families achieve economic mobility and an improved quality of life. Lawmakers and hearing witnesses primarily discussed the viability and potential consequences of imposing work requirements for those enrolling in welfare programs.

Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) opened the hearing by stressing the importance of creating “a system that provides more Americans with personalized solutions, real paths out of poverty, and better opportunities to realize their potential.” He stated that the staggering 47 million people living in poverty in the United States might find a path to economic stability if work-capable adults were required to sustain employment in order to receive welfare benefits.  

Ranking Member Sander M. Levin (D-MI) expressed dismay at the single-minded focus on employment at the expense of more expansive federal social supports. He cited the inconsistency of coupling mandatory work requirements with cuts to programs that provide food assistance, childcare services, healthcare coverage, job training, and financial assistance for higher education—all programs that make retention of employment possible. Furthermore, Levin stressed the importance of ensuring equal pay for women, a living wage for all, and tax reform supporting the most impoverished.

Olivia Golden of the Center for Law and Social Policy testified that “the nation’s core economic security programs,” including the earned income tax credit and healthcare and food assistance benefit programs, “are highly effective.” Golden emphasized that high employment rates are not synonymous with low poverty rates. She cited low wages and gaps in the safety net that might render employment insufficient to lift a person out of poverty. Golden said that she feels work requirements are a “bad idea” and “jobs (should) support, rather than destabilize families.”  

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