Ryan’s Opening Statement: A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Working with Families in Need

Opening Remarks, as Prepared for Delivery

Hi, everybody—and welcome.

This is our fifth hearing about the War on Poverty. Over the past year, we’ve heard from a number of voices: policy experts, community groups, federal officials. And today, we’re going to hear from the people in the middle—people in the private sector who work with the public sector—people who coordinate state programs with private charity. We’re also going to hear from an especially important voice: Mrs. Tianna Gaines-Turner.

First, Mrs. Gaines-Turner. I was very happy to meet Tianna earlier this year, and I’m excited to hear her testimony. In fact, I want to quote from her previous written testimony, because I think she hits the nail on the head. She says:

Poverty is not just one issue that can be solved at one time. It’s not just an issue of jobs, or food, or housing, or energy assistance, and safety. It’s a people issue. And you can’t slice people up into issues. We are whole human beings. Poverty has to do with a whole person who is in a family, in a neighborhood, in a community.

I think this is exactly right. For too long, the federal government has treated people as numbers—instead of whole people with wholly connected needs.

That’s why I’m also excited to hear from Heather Reynolds, the president of Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. Ms. Reynolds is doing great work in Fort Worth. She’s putting together a pilot project to test how case management can expand opportunity for working families. As Mrs. Gaines-Turner urges, Ms. Reynolds’s program sees people as “whole human beings” who deserve time and care—not just another client to usher out the door. The results speak for themselves. In 2013, 90 percent of the people in their refugee program became self-sufficient within six months. 

I’d also like to welcome Jennifer Tiller from America Works. America Works has pioneered two key concepts that are crucial to real reform: work-first and accountability. America Works gets paid only if they succeed. And I can’t find a better definition of success than their own. They say success “is an individual moving to employment, maintaining a self-sufficient lifestyle, and progressing in their desired career trajectory.” I think we should insist on the same accountability from our federal programs as we do from these community groups.

And one last thing. At a previous hearing, some of my colleagues kept asking our witnesses if they had received federal aid—as if that would have undercut their testimony. Look, the point of these hearings isn’t to question whether the federal government should help; it’s to figure out the best way it can help.

With that, I hope we can listen and learn from our witnesses today. And now I’d like to recognize the ranking member for his opening remarks.