Congress Takes on Poverty

Congressman and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan hosted a hearing on poverty in America and failed to include anyone currently living in poverty.  NEOCH is in business to provide a voice to those often forgotten by society, and we could have provided any number of individuals to help illustrate the point.  We could have sent a number of our Street Voices speakers such as Don to talk about long term health issues that keep him living in poverty.   The long waits for the state to determine if a person is in fact disabled and deserves government support to keep them in poverty for the rest of their lives is another reason for poverty in America. 

But Congressman Ryan was not looking for an answer to why there are a large number of people living in poverty.   He wanted to make a political point that anti-poverty programs have not worked.  He was interested in showing that cash assistance, Medicaid and food stamps programs are not working.  He would not be interested in hearing from an ex-IRS agent who had her family dissolve and could not find behavioral health care in America.   Most commentators mentioned the symbolism of the candidate who constantly had to explain the 47 percent comment throughout his campaign then hosting this hearing. 

What was the point of all this?  Why host a hearing on poverty and not invite any American actually facing poverty?  The purpose is to drum up support for eliminating the entitlement to food stamps and block grant Medicaid and undermine Obamacare.  It would not be helpful that Raymond, a veteran, would talk about how he will have to work for the rest of his life because he does not have access to any safety net system.  Congressman Ryan did not want to hear from anyone struggling to feed their children with food stamps or the family terrified that their 21 disabled son cannot take care of themselves and will have no where to get help as an adult.  There was no witness called from the senior population who could talk about how they love Medicare and feel that it was one of the greatest government programs ever invented because that would not be part of the Ryan script.  No one testified how great the school lunch program was to provide the proper nutrition to the kids who could then focus on learning.  And there was no one represented who could talk about being able to sleep in a shelter bed in Cleveland despite the increasing numbers because the government stimulus program. 

The anti-poverty programs for the elderly are working because it is so engrained in our society.  Every suburb has a senior citizen assistance department, and to that end we have only a small number of homeless people over 60 years of age.   There is not the level of rural poverty as there was in the 1960s.  The family safety net system is not working and needs reformed, but not the remedy proposed by Congressman Ryan.  We need a dramatic expansion in government support for families to lift them out of poverty.  It was ironic that in the same week fast food workers demanded a higher wage in order to lift themselves out of the need for government support, Congressman Ryan was hosting a hearing to figure out how to make it harder for those same workers to get government help. 

Brian Davis

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