Welcome to today’s hearing.
Today is the first hearing in a series on what government does to help low-income families get ahead, whether that is effective, and how that can be made to work better.
Today we will start with a review of our current system and how much we spend, but more importantly whether that spending is effective in encouraging work and higher earnings by low-income individuals.
Consider two facts.
Fact #1: We are spending more than ever to assist low-income individuals and families. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, last year the Federal government spent about $600 billion on just the 10 largest programs, which is over 10 times the $55 billion we spent in 1972, when half of these programs didn’t even exist.
Fact #2: Despite all that spending, it’s not clear that these programs are offering real help. For example, despite record spending, this is the slowest economic recovery in recorded history, with far too many families unemployed and living in poverty.
Together these facts make it hard for defenders of the status quo to say all is well, especially across the 83 programs the Congressional Research Service has identified as assisting low-income families. And these facts make it even harder still for the millions of American families without stable work and reliable incomes, as we now enter the fourth year after the recession officially “ended.”
Today we will ask whether there are features of today’s low-income programs that lead to too little success in helping adults go to work and increase their earnings.
As we proceed, I note we are intentionally taking a broader view than just those programs within our subcommittee’s specific jurisdiction. Our programs are key benefits for low-income families. But they do not represent all that taxpayers do to help low-income families. To really understand what is going on, you have to look at the big picture. So that is what we will do.
We are pleased to have a number of experts on these programs with us, including someone who can provide a first-hand explanation of how she received real help, and when she didn’t. We welcome Sada Randolph, a former client of America Works here in DC, to tell her important story.
Given the broadness of our topics, one hearing couldn’t possibly do them justice. So our next hearing will build on what we learn today by exploring what really works to help families, and whether that knowledge drives what we spend taxpayer money on.
Finally, we will consider options for reform, including how we can work with our State partners to better coordinate the current maze of government programs to better serve families in need.
Our goal is to help more low-income families leave poverty and achieve the American Dream. That’s not a Republican goal, or a Democrat goal. And the fact that too many of our fellow citizens have seen that goal slip from their grasp in recent years is our call to action.
The status quo is simply not good enough. Spending more money on current programs is not good enough. Reforming programs so they spend smarter to achieve better outcomes is what we should always seek.
That is the challenge ahead of us.