Series of Hearings on Administration Actions that Threaten the Welfare of Children

On February 5 and 6, 2020, four subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held four hearings to examine the negative effects of regulations proposed by the Trump Administration relating to children including child poverty, housing, hunger, and health.

On Wednesday, February 5, the Subcommittee on Government Operations conducted the first of a 4-part series hearing: A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes to the Poverty Line Calculation. The hearing focused on the potential effects of the proposed method to recalculate the threshold of poverty and the proposed bill- Recognizing Poverty Act. The Recognizing Poverty Act directs the HHS in collaboration with other departments to assess the current poverty line and propose a poverty guide that accounts for more criteria, including regional differences and family size.

The Trump administration has proposed to calculate the poverty line by using the Chained Consumer Price Index (Chained CPI), rather than the currently used Consumer Price Index (CPI). This change would calculate a slower rate of inflation, thus lowering the poverty line and potentially decreasing eligibility for different federal programs such as Medicaid and SNAP.

In his opening statement, Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) shared dismal outcomes for children if the Chained CPI was used. Chairman Connolly shared the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimation that after ten years, “300,000 children would lose health care, 210,000 school-age children would lose eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals, nearly 200,000 people would lose their SNAP benefits, and 40,000 infants and young children would lose their benefits for supplemental nutrition.” Ranking Member Mark Meadows (R-NC) expressed that “free and reduced lunches” are a present problem and wanted to know what should be calculated for poverty and how it should be adjusted.

The first witness panel included Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the original sponsor of the Recognizing Poverty Act, and Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-WV). The second panel consisted of Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Dr. Indi Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Ms. Amy Jo Hutchinson, Organizer of the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition in West Virginia, and Mr. Rob Smith, a U.S. Army veteran and black conservative.

Dutta-Gupta explained that the two purposes of the poverty measure were to measure poverty statistically and to target resources to communities. Still, it requires an accurate measure of the poverty rate that is based on current living standards. He spoke on how research has shown that “these programs [WIC, SNAP, and Medicaid] keep millions of people out of poverty and help boost wages, earnings, educational and health outcomes,” and that the proposed use of chained CPI would cause a decrease of participation in these programs. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez stated that with 40 million people living in poverty, “America is in a state of denial,” about the problem.

Hutchinson provided a powerful and emotional testimony on her experience and others she works with and knows of what poverty looks like in West Virginia. She explained that public assistance makes the difference between many kids eating a meal, even if their parents go hungry for days. When the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked Hutchinson if she had benefited from the economic growth that has been seen in the past years, Hutchinson responded that she had not. Instead, Hutchinson stated that there is a child care crisis in her state and that she deals with “toxic stress that comes with being poor” and struggles to feed her two children as a full-time early childhood education teacher.

Many committee members provided alternative suggestions, like Congressman James Comer (R-KY) suggested the creation of a bridge program that transitions people from welfare to the workforce or awarding companies who pay higher than the minimum wages. Smith supported the idea of a transition because, in his experience, he believes people become dependent and abuse the system, thus trapping them in a cycle of poverty. Congressman Jody Hice (R-GA) shared that “the three key issues and factors to get out of poverty include family, education…and economic opportunities” and believes that “the economy is critical” in helping people escape poverty. Congressman Connolly commented that despite the visual of a welfare queen or remarks of poor people being lazy that “no child chooses poverty.”

Overall, committee members acknowledged that there is work to be done in America. Congressman Hice says, “it is pertinent for us to have a discussion about the welfare system and whether or not it works. Obviously, what all of us want is to see is people come off of welfare.” Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez remarked that “poverty is a taboo word,” and Congress’ failure to recognize poverty is costly.