02.10.16

Rep. Lee and Rep. Moore Slam Use of Political Stunts to Attack Social Programs

Washington, D.C. – Today, Budget Committee members, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04), sent a letter to Chairman Tom Price expressing their collective concern regarding reports that House Republicans intend to use the budget reconciliation process to attack critical social safety net programs.

“Today, more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty, including one in five American children. Republican proposals to use the budget process to make misguided and sweeping changes to our nation’s proven anti-poverty programs are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past while furthering eroding our social safety net. Their actions will result in more poverty, more hunger and less hope in America,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “Attempts to use the budget process to push this extreme, Tea Party agenda is frankly disingenuous. Instead of working to demonize struggling families, we should be investing in programs that create more opportunity and build pathways into the middle class.

“Both Congresswoman Lee and I were once recipients of the very social services that are currently being targeted by our Republican colleagues,” said Congresswoman Moore. “Our distinct perspectives and firsthand experiences with these vital public assistance programs add unique and empathetic voices to a debate overpowered by crass sentiments and hostile attitudes. With 46.7 million Americans battling poverty, we should be able to engage in an open debate about these life-saving programs in the light of day, not behind closed doors or with the help of political stunts.”

The full text of letter can be found below:

The Honorable Tom Price Chairman House Budget Committee January 10, 2016
Dear Chairman Price,

We write to share our concerns regarding possible proposals to use the budget reconciliation process to make sweeping changes to welfare and other vital safety net programs. It has been reported in the media that Republicans plan to include reconciliation instructions in the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget to reform and harm our country’s public assistance and safety net programs. As you know, House Republicans, through Speaker Ryan, have made a commitment to restoring regular order in this session of Congress. Major pieces of legislation, like welfare reform, should be debated through the regular deliberative process.

We are concerned that some Republicans will utilize budget reconciliation instructions to overhaul welfare and repeat the same mistakes of the past. For example, in 1996 when Congress “ended welfare as we know it” and replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the United States greatly weakened its ability to help impoverished and needy families. Over the past 18 years, the TANF caseload has dropped 60 percent, despite worsening socioeconomic conditions for families living in poverty. Additionally, the TANF work requirements are already exceedingly harsh – pushing women and low-income individuals into low-paying jobs with little to no upward mobility. Doubling down on these failed approaches could be disastrous to vulnerable Americans all across our country.

As you know, poverty in the United States is an unfortunate reality for 46.7 million of Americans, which equates to 1 in 7 Americans. Our future generations are at grave risk when 22% - or 16 million children - in the United States are living in poverty. While poverty is a challenge in all communities, we know that communities of color are disproportionately affected by this crisis. Moreover, growing wealth and income inequality in the United States substantially exacerbates this crisis and reduces the chances for impoverished families and low-income workers to lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class.

That is why we must support and expand the very safety net programs that are vital to combating poverty. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), in 2014, federal safety net programs lifted 36 million people out of poverty who would have otherwise been impoverished. Furthermore, programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) proved tremendously important as a swift countercyclical response to hunger during the Great Recession and continue to lift millions of Americans out of poverty each year. We should work to improve and strengthen these programs, not streamline congressional debate to add barriers for families to access these vital anti-poverty programs.

Instead, there are important policy recommendations that have real potential for bipartisan movement in the 114th Congress. For example, both former Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and President Obama have expressed willingness to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to twenty-one years for those without children, which would help improve conditions for millions of young Americans living in poverty. Congress is also at the brink of passing meaningful criminal justice reform in order to reduce our country’s over-incarceration crisis. This sweeping reform could prove to be a meaningful step towards addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, which pervasively robs opportunity from our most at-risk and impoverished youth.

Sincerely,

Congressswoman Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Gwen Moore