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Chairman Smith Opening Statement at Hearing on the Geography of Poverty

February 15, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing entitled “The Geography of Poverty.”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Welcome to the first hearing of the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee in the 115th Congress.

“As we all know, the Ways and Means Committee plays an important role in designing policies to improve the lives of Americans across this country. Together, members of this Committee work to improve our nation’s healthcare system, modernize our tax code to make American businesses more competitive, improve trade so U.S. companies can sell goods abroad, and— in the Human Resources Subcommittee—help more families access opportunities to move up the economic ladder.

“This task is more important than ever. While the total number of individuals living in poverty has fallen from its recent peak in 2010, poverty rates—and even more troubling, child poverty rates—remain much higher than they were prior to the recession. In addition, a larger share of working-age adults are in poverty than ever before, as fewer men and women today are employed than in the past.

“Today’s hearing represents our first step to address this issue in the 115th Congress. Before we can identify ways to foster greater opportunities, we have to first understand what the challenges look like across the country. That’s why the focus of our hearing today is on the geography of poverty. This felt like the right place to start as I thought about the challenges in my own district, where many locations aren’t just rural but remote, and that of the Ranking Member’s as potential bookends of the same story.

“People often think of poverty only as they see it in cities, not realizing poverty today is more common than ever in suburban and rural areas. People also underestimate poverty in rural and remote areas, not knowing rates of poverty in these areas have for decades been higher than in urban areas. Our instinct might be to think rural Nebraska and urban Chicago are so vastly different they have nothing in common. But what we are charged to do in this subcommittee is to find ways for individuals and families to succeed, and those challenges are universal, even if they require different solutions.

“Fortunately, the members of this Subcommittee bring substantial expertise to bear, as together we represent a wide range of constituencies—from virtually all four corners of this country. This diversity will be an asset as we explore ways to reduce poverty, as I know what works in one area may not always be what works in another. It’s important we realize and respect the differences between the constituencies we represent, as too often Congress proposes national, one-size-fits-all solutions when local flexibility is really what’s needed.

“Clearly, the centerpiece of any poverty fighting strategy must be employment. We should make sure federal policies support and reward work, and make sure employment pays for those struggling to get ahead. It’s also important we get incentives right so everyone benefits when someone moves from welfare to work—from the state agency running the program to the business owner hiring the employee to the individual seeking to improve his or her life. We should also avoid the tendency to focus solely on inputs like dollars spent or people served, and instead ensure we focus on outcomes. By prioritizing results, we can empower local communities with the flexibility they need to design solutions which have real impact on improving the lives of families in their community.

“I look forward to hearing from our expert panel of witnesses today, and I know their insights will lay the groundwork for our efforts to help more Americans find jobs, escape poverty, and move up the economic ladder.”