On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the House Ways and Means Worker and Family Support Subcommittee held a hearing on “Combating Child Poverty in America.” The hearing focused on how we can work to end child poverty and ways in which Congress can work “together with researchers, local leaders, and the communities themselves to meet that goal by replacing poverty with economic justice for all.”
Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) opened with a statement saying, “The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth, and yet more than 10 million children live in poverty.” He conveys the injustices he sees in his district on the West Side of Chicago, where local community leaders are working at the root of the problem of fixing poverty and its detrimental effects on health. Congress needs to take a more significant role in forging paths for low-income families for success and health, he emphasized.

Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN) emphasized the need to work together to keep our poverty as low as it was in 2001. “We can’t ignore the vital role of economic growth. We see that opportunity can do more for child poverty than any government program,” she stated.

Four witnesses provided testimony: Dr. Marsha Raulerson, Pediatrician from Alabama and representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Joy Bivens, agency directory of Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services, Angela Rachidi, from the American Enterprise Institute, and Dr. Ron Haskins, co-direct of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institute, and member of the National Academies study committee. Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, director of the Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy at Brandeis University, could not make it to this hearing due to travel restrictions.

Haskins spoke on behalf of his colleague Dr. Acevedo-Garcia and discussed the findings from the 2019 National Academies report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. The report highlighted that 13 percent of U.S. children, 9.6 million, are in families with incomes below the poverty line, and 2.9 percent, 2.1 million, live in deep poverty. There is a clear linkage between child poverty and adverse child outcomes. Without programs such as SNAP, TANF, Social Security, EITC, the child poverty rate would be so much higher than it currently is, stated Haskins. The National Academies study committee found that none of the 20 programs would reduce poverty by half alone, but combination (or packages) would strongly reduce poverty and increase work.

Many of the witnesses also agreed that we need to improve the current infrastructure, expand the policies we already have, and increase federal funding to keep poverty levels down. Witness Bivens stated that in a 2016 survey, 44% of county officials said that their county either reduced or eliminated programs because of budget constraints.

Witness Dr. Raulerson and Bivens brought up the point that child poverty is not just a challenge in large urban counties, but also for rural communities, as 70% of the U.S.’s counties are considered “rural.” Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) stressed that “we are siloed,” and that he wants to see more local flexibility by bringing decision-making to the local level. Haskin and Rachidi shared that there would be budget implications because programs are siloed at the federal level. Rachidi, also discussed that expanding government programs are not the solution and that promoting federal policies with work allow families to escape poverty.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) shared that she is planning to introduce a bill that will extend foster care to age 21 to all states to help combat child poverty, a proposal CWLA is including as one of its priorities for this year. She then asked Dr. Haskins how this measure could reduce child poverty. He then highlighted how requirements originating in the Ways and Means Committee have loosen up and allowed states to use federal and state dollars. Haskin replied, “I don’t see that as an anti-poverty policy, although it can have effects [for foster youth].” “I see this as a policy of equity, we don’t do enough for foster kids and never have…. We should do more to help them.” Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) asked Dr. Raulerson what the expansion of Medicaid would do for children. Dr. Raulerson stated that expansion would help in particular by expanding access for adults. Alabama is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA. She went on to highlight other shortfalls in Alabama. She said Early Head Start is nonexistent in rural Alabama, SNAP does not feed a family for a month but it helps families provide food, and the state needs more home visitation programs.

Congresswoman Chu also noted with the rising issue of COVID-19: “It’s made something crystal clear, and that’s having a government that takes care of the least among us that fights so that every American family can meet their basic needs, is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart and safe thing to do for society.” Lower-income families will be less likely to seek medical attention, which means they will be less likely to get tested for this virus.

Our children are our future. Congressman Ron Estes (R-KA) remarked that “having one child in poverty is too many.” The Committee believes that we need to invest in them so that they do not have to face challenges that stem from child poverty. There needs to be a level of collaboration across programs to ensure the success of them.