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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Hearing on Measuring Poverty

October 24, 2023

As prepared for delivery. 

“Thank you Chairman LaHood and Ranking Member Davis.

“Today’s hearing is, on the surface, about an issue that might otherwise draw very little, if any attention from most Americans. A discussion over how the government chooses to define one of various metrics it uses to allocate resources is not likely to reach the front pages of America’s newspapers.

“And yet, as this hearing will show today, this issue will have a profound impact on millions of Americans and the communities – particularly rural communities – where they live and work.

“As my colleagues are aware, numerous social services and child welfare programs base their eligibility requirements on what’s known as the ‘Official Poverty Measure’ that the Census Bureau produces annually. Federal resources are then targeted toward states and communities with higher instances of poverty.

“But now, the Biden Administration is considering unilaterally discarding that standard and using a new metric that will result in an estimated $124 billion in new welfare spending over the next decade. But even more concerning is that this change will divert resources away from America’s rural communities.

“Under the Supplemental Poverty Measure that the Administration is considering using to redraw the poverty line, in a high cost-of-living state like California the poverty line for a family of four would be as high as $47,000 and as low as $32,300 in Alabama. That means families in rural states and communities have to be poorer than families in places like California in order to access SNAP and Medicaid benefits.

“This is about robbing resources from rural America and rewarding coastal elites – all under the cloak of a recommendation from a National Academy panel that is overwhelmingly liberal.

“Instead of focusing limited funds on politically charged research, we should focus our attention on support that helps families in poverty gain the employment skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

“I also cannot help but mention that the metric the Administration recommends is a useful tool for our Democrat colleagues because it inflates the actual benefits of massive federal spending through programs like the so-called ‘American Rescue Plan Act.’ It gives them the ability to decry the loss of that sugar-high spending as soon as the money runs out. It’s a not so clever attempt to demand more federal spending at all times, at all costs.

“Also troubling is the way in which this change in measuring poverty can come about. Under current law, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget has sole authority to change the metric that is used. In other words, an executive agency can make a dramatic change in how federal tax dollars are spent, impacting millions of our fellow citizens without an ounce of input from Congress.

“It seems appropriate that this Committee should consider whether leaving that power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats is as foolish as it sounds. After all, the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, not the Executive Branch. That question is made all the more important considering that we are talking about programs that have a direct impact on millions of individuals and families struggling to get by.”