Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, is having a series of hearings on the progress of the War on Poverty. Through these hearings, members of the Budget Committee can learn about programs that are used to fight poverty, and about the progress and successes of these programs in the past 50 years, since Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “War on Poverty.”
Last Wednesday, I attended one of these hearings with Tianna Gaines-Turner, a member of the Witnesses to Hunger program at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. As someone who has experienced poverty first-hand, Tianna works hard to make her voice heard by policymakers who decide on which poverty-fighting programs will be supported and which will be cut. The hearing on Wednesday was titled, “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines.” However, none of the three witnesses testifying had ever experienced poverty first-hand.
Tianna’s presence at the hearing reminded members of the Budget Committee that the decisions they make impact real people, many of whom (like Tianna) are working hard to break the cycle of poverty for their families. Although Tianna has not been invited to speak as a witness at any of these hearings, she did submit written testimony for a previous hearing, which described her experiences and the strengths and weaknesses of government-funded public programs aimed to fight poverty. Another Witness to Hunger, Barbie Izquierdo, also submitted written testimony for this most recent hearing. The press has also noticed that some voices are missing from this discussion: a recent article in ThinkProgress discussed how Paul Ryan Won’t Let Poor People Testify at Hearing About Poverty.
As lawmakers and policy analysts reflect on the successes and shortcomings of public assistance programs, it’s essential to include people who have direct experience with these programs in the conversations. Their perspectives are vital for understanding how these programs can better address the immense problem of poverty within the United States.