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Work & Welfare Subcommittee Chairman LaHood Opening Statement – Field Hearing on the Dignity of Work: Lifting Individuals Out of Poverty – Chicago, Illinois

April 09, 2024

“All of our government programs need to be oriented to provide every opportunity for individuals to grow their capacity and be connected to meaningful work.”

As prepared for delivery.

“Good morning and thank you all for joining us for today’s hearing. I especially want to thank our witnesses, Chairman Smith, and members of the Ways and Means Committee for traveling here today. 

“My name is Darin LaHood and I represent Illinois’ 16th District covering much of the central and northwestern parts of the state. I am pleased to host this congressional hearing in my home state and the district of my colleague and Ranking Member, Danny Davis. 

“Rep. Davis and I lead the Work and Welfare Subcommittee, which has the responsibility of overseeing several important federal anti-poverty programs that provide assistance to vulnerable children and families. 

“We are very lucky to be here at the Pacific Garden Mission and grateful to Pastor Phil and all the staff for hosting us, and for their work to uplift and restore the lives of homeless individuals and families in Chicago. Thank you. 

“Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit Project H.O.O.D. and learn about the important work that Pastor Corey Brooks and his team are doing to uplift and transform lives in the Englewood and Woodlawn communities, including building a new community center. 

“One of the things that has stood out to me about both of these organizations is their philosophy of ‘uplifting’ and equipping individuals in crisis with skills and tools to find stability and transform their lives through faith and work. 

“How we define help matters.

“Whether it’s through churches, non-profits, private foundations, or government programs – when providing relief and assistance to those in need – we should be exploring every possibility to promote work as the surest pathway out of poverty.

“No amount of handouts or government assistance, no matter how well-intentioned, can substitute for the intangible benefits and dignity that work brings to individuals and their families, and the ripple effect it has on communities. 

“All of our government programs need to be oriented to provide every opportunity for individuals to grow their capacity and be connected to meaningful work. 

“At the most fundamental level, work provides income and greatly reduces the likelihood of being in poverty. Simply working, even part-time, dramatically reduces the chances of living below the poverty line. 

“In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 4.1 percent of individuals who worked part-time over a period of at least 27 weeks had incomes below the poverty line, and only 2.6 percent for those who worked full time. 

“Beyond providing a reliable source of income, work also provides countless intangible benefits to individuals:

  • Research has shown that work is associated with improved physical and mental health, social well-being, and higher degrees of human connectedness and social capital. 
  • Conversely, studies have linked joblessness with increased social isolation, depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. 
  • Joblessness can even affect physical health. One study found that unemployment lasting longer than six months can reduce life expectancy by as much as a year and a half for a 40-year-old worker. 

“Tying federal benefits to the expectation of work is not a punishment. Work in exchange for benefits represents society’s commitment to helping individuals and families in crisis. 

“In fact, most Americans support work as a condition of welfare. A 2023 Axios poll found nearly two-thirds of Americans, including half of Democrats, support work requirements for welfare programs.

“As part of this Committee’s ongoing efforts to restore work requirements to federal programs, in 2023, we secured a major victory by strengthening work requirements for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF cash assistance as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act

“The bipartisan law closed loopholes to hold states accountable for engaging TANF work-eligible individuals in work, and established pilot programs to measure recipient employment and earnings outcomes to test alternative measures of performance.

“But more can be done. Conducting these field hearings gives us an opportunity to hear directly from people who overcame the odds to escape poverty and the organizations and leaders that do the hard work every day to help individuals transform their lives. 

“Thank you again to our witnesses for being here today and I look forward to your testimony.”