Paul Ryan’s War on Poverty

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We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following post appeared first in Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” blog.

House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, during the committee's hearing on organizations that say they were unfairly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service while seeking tax-exempt status. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Kudos to Melissa Harris-Perry for having Tianna Gaines-Turner, a Witness to Hunger, on her show once again to talk about her experiences with hunger and poverty; also to Congresswoman Barbara Lee who, after listening to Gaines-Turner, is now pushing for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to allow her to testify at tomorrow’s hearing on the War on Poverty.

Harris-Perry played a clip from Representative Ryan’s interview with NBC News’s In Plain Sight poverty project, in which the congressman argues that the solution to poverty is “reviving” churches and community groups, and that federal programs like food stamps and Medicaid have failed and should be cut.

“People themselves need to get involved in their community to help people. That’s what solidarity is,” said Representative Ryan. “That act of involvement, of human beings coming together to help one another — that’s so much better than some cold government program.”

In response, Gaines-Turner said that Representative Ryan and those who share his point of view “have no clue.”

“Everyone has something to say about someone who lives in hunger and poverty,” she said. “They’re making decisions which affect our lives without even having conversations with us. They think they have the answers.”

Harris-Perry asked Gaines-Turner what she would like to say to Representative Lee — “one of the most important members of the Progressive Caucus” (and truly committed to fighting poverty) — who was also a guest on the panel.

“Have more people who are going through these programs at the table,” said Gaines-Turner. “Not after both [chambers] have already voted. Invite us to the table, have us sit there, and you hear my story, and you understand. Walk in my shoes. It’s easy for people to sit back and judge me, without even asking me.”

Representative Lee shared that she was on food stamps in the early 1970s when she was raising her two children and that “it was really hard.” She agreed that Congress needs to hear more from people who are struggling. She said that she would ask Representative Ryan to allow Gaines-Turner to testify as a witness tomorrow.

Yesterday, the congresswoman indeed sent a letter to Chairman Ryan requesting that Gaines-Turner be included on the witness list.

This is an excellent opportunity for the chairman, since he told NBC News, “We need to do more listening to people who are in the trenches fighting poverty.”

That’s exactly what Gaines-Turner and the other Witnesses to Hunger have been doing since 2008.

Now is the chairman’s chance.

UPDATE: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has informed Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office that Ms. Gaines-Turner will not be permited to appear as a witness tomorrow, but she can submit written testimony. So silly that the Minority only gets one witness — although she’s a great one, Sister Simone Campbell — and the Majority gets three witnesses. And I would say that no matter who were in the Majority.

Greg Kaufmann is a freelance writer and Nation contributor covering poverty in America, primarily through his blog, This Week in Poverty. His work has also been featured on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show,,,, Common Dreams and Alternet. He serves as an adviser for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
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