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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Hearing on Poverty in America

Jun 19, 2019

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing on the economic realities faced by struggling families in America. Remarks as prepared are below:

This hearing will come to order. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us. I’d like to welcome our panel of witnesses – we appreciate you coming here to help us engage in a meaningful discussion on the character of our country and the ongoing struggle with poverty and economic injustices faced by far too many Americans.

I would also like to thank Congresswoman Barbara Lee for her leadership on this issue and her work to bring attention to this ongoing crisis through the Poverty Task Force.

The statistics on poverty are jarring: as of 2017, according to the Census, nearly 40 million people – or more than one in ten Americans - live in poverty. But that number, as I know our witnesses will testify to, fails to account for the tens of millions more Americans who still struggle to make ends meet. At the same time, 90 percent of households account for less than 23 percent of the nation’s income.

This past Sunday marked the longest period of time in US history without an increase in the federal minimum wage, and overall wage growth, after adjusting for inflation has remained largely stagnant for 40 years. Meanwhile, housing prices have gone up dramatically in many areas of the country, tuition costs have skyrocketed, and Americans are paying more for nearly every expense.

These facts are important, but they tell only part of the story. The purpose of this hearing is to shine a light on the challenges that Americans face in meeting their basic human needs. We will hear from people who experience those challenges first-hand and whose lives are directly impacted by the decisions and policies made in Washington.

That’s not to say that the federal government isn’t already playing an important role in the lives of American families working their way up the economic ladder. Critical investments in federal programs have kept millions of Americans above the poverty line and have cut the poverty rate nearly in half over the last 50 years.

Medicaid and CHIP provide health coverage to 73 million Americans, including more than one in three children. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs to low-income working-age adults, helping to bring the nation’s uninsured rate to a record low. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides nutrition assistance to nearly 43 million Americans each month, including 1.4 million veterans. The Child Care and Development Block Grant supported nearly 800,000 families, ensuring children were cared for while parents worked to put food on the table. The Earned Income Tax Credit has lifted millions of workers out of poverty instead of being taxed into it. And in 2017, more than 5 million households received assistance with heating and cooling costs through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), helping families stay safe and healthy.

But we need to be doing far more not less. For decades, efforts in Washington to close the gap between ongoing efforts to fight poverty and what is needed to fully address this crisis have been inadequate. But now, these programs, and the millions they serve, are under constant attack. Rather than increasing investments in evidence-based programs that help more struggling Americans get ahead, the Administration is proposing to change the way they measure the poverty rate, in a backdoor attempt to cut off vital aid to potentially millions of Americans.

There have also been consistent attempts by states to impose so-called work requirements on Medicaid recipients that only serve to deny health care to people. The Governor of my home state – by his own admission – said his Medicaid waiver request will take potentially life-saving health care coverage away from more than 90,000 Kentuckians.

And the Trump Administration hasn’t stopped there: They’ve rescinded regulations on payday loan lenders that prey on those in poverty, proposed cuts of $220 billion to SNAP, and sought to eliminate LIHEAP.

Many will differ on the role of the federal government in combatting poverty. But we shouldn’t differ on one concept – the more we can do to lift people out of poverty, the better our budgetary future will look.

Poverty is more than just a policy issue—it is a challenge to the conscience of our nation.

That is why I am thankful to have the opportunity today to learn about the real, everyday experiences of our witnesses and to debunk some of the myths surrounding this vital issue. We need to be making a stronger investment in our people – all our people – so every American has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.

I’m sure we will hear a lot of ideas and different points of views today as we look at ways to help working families and struggling Americans, which is the point of this hearing. Whether it’s practical or aspirational, or even designed to take a sledgehammer to the status-quo, we want to provide a platform for community leaders and those directly impacted by federal policies to share their ideas.

Once again, I would like to thank the Poor People’s Campaign and our witnesses for joining us. I look forward to your testimony.

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