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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Field Hearing on the Dignity of Work: Lifting Individuals Out of Poverty – Chicago, Illinois

April 09, 2024

“What we’ve lost sight of is that a job is the best anti-poverty program that exists.”

As prepared for delivery.

“Thank you Chairman LaHood and Ranking Member Davis. It’s not often a Subcommittee is led by a Chair and Ranking Member from the same state, and I’m glad we could visit Illinois to hear from folks you both represent in Congress. Thank you, Pastor Phil, and the entire team here at Pacific Garden Mission for hosting us. 

“Today, we are all actually making history. This is the first time in congressional history that a standing House committee has held a hearing in a homeless shelter. 

“Pacific Garden Mission is the oldest faith-based homeless shelter in the country, providing help to men and women across Chicago since 1877. The work you do is critically important to helping those in need transform their lives. 

“Most importantly, what you do here is about not giving up on people. That’s why we are having this hearing today. 

“We are in Chicago to listen to the real stories of individuals whose lives were transformed by work and what it takes to shepherd those in crisis from poverty to independence. 

“Taxpayers fund a fragmented and often confusing safety net system that spans more than 80 different federal programs at a cost of more than $1 trillion every year. 

“These programs provide important food, housing, health care, and cash assistance to help those in poverty. However, as federal support has grown, programs have largely failed to focus on how to help lift people back into full self-sufficiency. Instead, success is measured by how many new people are added to the rolls of these programs.This approach discourages people from seeking a path to work. 

“As a result, more people are receiving welfare benefits today than at any time in our nation’s history. 

“In 2023, 85 million people were enrolled in Medicaid, an increase of 20 percent since 2019. This represents 25 percent of the U.S. population. 

“In 2023, 41 million people received food assistance through SNAP, an increase of 18 percent since 2019. This represents 12 percent of the population.

“What we’ve lost sight of is that a job is the best anti-poverty program that exists.

“Work is more than a paycheck. Every person has skills and abilities they can offer to their community. Often it is just connecting those skills with the right job. When people are not able to apply their talents, they miss out on the dignity that comes from work and their communities are denied their contributions. 

“Relying on a government check can weaken an individual’s ability to use and grow their skills. Instead of climbing out of poverty, families find themselves without hope and trapped with fewer options for their future.

“Children with parents who are unable to find meaningful employment often struggle in school and face more severe mental health issues, contributing to a generational cycle of poverty. In fact, 1 in every 3 children who grow up in poverty will raise their own children in poverty. We must break this cycle.

“Clearly, the path from welfare to work is not easy or straightforward. Folks often must first overcome the barriers that contribute to poverty – like mental health or educational challenges, substance abuse, health problems, neglect.

“Too often, however, community leaders find themselves battling against so-called ‘solutions’ from Washington that make it harder for individuals to escape poverty.

“We know as much from recent history. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Child Tax Credit was transformed from a program that rewards work to one that doesn’t and Democrats extended unemployment benefits that paid people more not to work. 

“As a consequence, a government check was worth more than a paycheck and millions of families sat on the sidelines. It is not the fault of those families. They were just responding to the incentives Washington provided.

“There’s more we can and should do. Last year, as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Republicans led changes to strengthen work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs. Last month, Republican members on our committee introduced legislation that would protect taxpayer dollars provided through TANF from being lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. 

“We are here because we want to hear from those on the frontlines of this crisis. There will be clipboards passed out for anyone to share with us your concerns and ideas. We will enter those into the official hearing record and take them back with us to Washington as we consider how policies can better connect people to work and lift more Americans out of poverty. 

“Thank you all for joining us here today, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”