Good morning and thank you all for being here.
In September, the United States Census Bureau released its annual poverty report that stated the official poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent. For the fourth straight year, the rate has remained roughly the same. No one statistic paints a complete picture, but it does stand to reason that if, after trillions of dollars spent on assistance for poor and low-income Americans across dozens of different programs, and 46.7 million Americans are still living in poverty, we can do better.
Today’s hearing will give us an opportunity to talk about how we can do better and, hopefully, identify ways to improve the efficacy of America’s safety-net programs. This is our second hearing as part of the House Budget Committee’s new initiative called Restoring the Trust for All Generations. As I have said previously, this initiative is not about numbers and budgets. It’s about helping Americans by saving and strengthening vital programs so they can serve those who need assistance today and in the future.
Currently, the broad array of safety-net programs meant to support low-income and vulnerable Americans are, in many ways, failing to deliver the type of quality assistance promised. While many Americans do not get the help they truly need, too many others get stuck in the current complex web of programs. That leads to a situation where, for all the assistance provided, these programs are not fulfilling the ultimate goal of lifting our fellow citizens out of poverty and on to a path of self-sufficiency.
And that ought to be our ultimate goal. Not a system that just sustains individuals but one that gives them the opportunity to fulfill their potential, to rise up and build a life where they can take pride in their contributions to our economy and society; where they can raise a family or own a home if they so choose.
To achieve those types of results, we need to reexamine and refocus our efforts and resources on a safety-net system that is aimed at allowing more American dreams to be realized.
First, we need a safety net that actually works when people need it. Right now, millions of Americans are on Medicaid, but they are not truly getting access to quality health care. Job-training programs are duplicative and ineffective. And resources like food stamps and housing assistance are bogged down in bureaucracy and waste. It’s time to stop measuring the success of these programs by how much money we spend and instead focus on how many people are we actually helping.
Second, we need to make sure the money we spend is going to people who truly need the help. Americans deserve to have their tax dollars used responsibly and fraud and abuse within these programs robs resources from the most vulnerable.
Finally, we need a safety net that encourages people to move into lives of self-sufficiency. We need to catch people when they fall on hard times, but we do not want them to get stuck. We need programs that act as a trampoline so that they can quickly bounce back up and into lives where they have the opportunity and pride of working and providing for themselves and their families.
If we follow these principles and we listen to the folks who are on the front lines of this struggle each and every day – whether in the programs, administering the programs, or building a more innovative approach to caring for America’s most vulnerable – I am confident we can achieve and help others achieve a brighter future.
That is why I am grateful to have today’s panel of witnesses here to discuss how we go about building that brighter future.
First, we have Larry Woods, the CEO of the Winston-Salem Housing Authority. Mr. Woods grew up in public housing. And because of the strong incentives at the time to build a life of self-sufficiency, he and his family did exactly that – the true definition of the American dream. He’s now looking to replicate those successes for others in his community.
Next, we have William McGahan, the Chairman of Georgia Works, a private sector organization in Atlanta that’s fighting homelessness, poverty, and criminal recidivism. They have developed a program that employs an innovative approach to lifting individuals up and out of poverty, helping them find a path to self-sufficiency and the personal pride and dignity that comes with work and building a family.
We also have Olivia Golden, the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. She has previously served as Commissioner for Children, Youth, and Families and as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Finally, we have Robert Doar, who is the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. And before that, he served as the Commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration where he oversaw 12 public assistance programs. I look forward to hearing about Mr. Doar’s experience in managing some of the government’s largest assistance programs.
I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses. They have spent years not just studying poverty and the government’s efforts to combat these challenges; they have spent their lives working with the very folks we aim to help through reforms to America’s safety-net programs. Their firsthand experience and knowledge will be invaluable to our understanding of these issues.
And with that, I yield to the ranking member, Mr. van Hollen.