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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  • HandupnotHandout

    Grateful to Representative Lee, life isn’t easy or fair & we all need help sometimes. When the poor stand in line at a Food Pantry, customarily they are courteous, patient and grateful for the help. If Representative Ryan is honest with himself that’s exactly how his Mother was, when she had to ask for assistance.

  • dorothee

    Ryan really doesn’t have a clue. He should visit the many churches that are working overtime trying to feed the hungry, house the homeless, etc. They problem is most of these churches and other civic groups working to combate poverty are in the poor areas of our cities and counties. Maybe he needs to visit other neighborhoods & churches.

  • Robert Alexander

    As one of the people who meet the homeless, hungry and desperate on a regular basis as part of a church community, I can assure you that churches know they can not meet nearly all of the food and housing needs of this population. One meal a week and housing and meals for seven days a week for a handful of the people with children is the best we can do. That leaves out most of those without children for six out of seven days.

  • Anonymous

    You are correct in theory, Congressman Ryan. But what about churches in which most of the people are underemployed?

  • Joanna

    Poverty is such an embarrassment to America.

  • Jack Haesly

    Why is Ryan feeding at the public trough? He seems to know what’s good for the economically under served among us… but continues to draw a government check himself? What’s with that? Ryan and his do nothing Republican’t lot, in my opinion, are the problem…not the solution. Ryan is fine with government handouts for mega corporations and the idle rich… but leaves nothing for the masses that actually haul themselves out of bed in the morning to continue to build the nation. I would hope his constituents would fix that situation in the next coming election.

  • Larry Beaird

    Give them good paying jobs. we have alot of bridges….. that need to be upgraded ,

  • kay

    Raise the minimum wage and create jobs. The “job creators” aren’t doing it and never will.

  • Jared

    How about finding hard workers, who will earn their pay? We pay well over the minimum wage in my company and can’t keep good employees. I’ve had people turn down good work for a government hand out. Republicans are not the only problem… People who create a lazy workforce are. Aka democrats and anyone who supports entitlement. I love how people who have no clue about business put in their two cents about the minimum wage or how companies should function. People not understanding the function of government and business is what is keeping us in this mess in the first place.

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  • Rev. Kate

    People who say churches should provide welfare instead of government haven’t done much research on churches. Most churches are small and not very wealthy. But even if our church gave its entire budget to the poor — nothing to building, salaries, etc. we could only provide support for five families and would have to cut out all our other services and probably wouldn’t survive to support them next year. Paul Ryan is a wealthy man. How much is he supporting his poor neighbors? Even with government programs, churches cannot meet the needs for food and shelter in our communities. Does Mr. Ryan have evidence that privatizing aid to the poor has worked well in any country? Food Stamps go primarily to those who can’t work (children, elderly, disabled) or those whose work doesn’t provide a living income.

  • Maximum_207

    If you can’t keep employees you aren’t paying high enough wages for the job.

  • John Fisher

    How about business owners, especially small-business owners, starting to care about their employees other than as they relate to the business’ bottom line? If the phrase “Sounds like a personal problem to me” has ever escaped your lips as a supervisor, you just might take a look in the mirror when looking for solutions to “this mess”. Employees are human beings, not commodities.

  • Maximum_207

    Voluntary charity will never work in a society where the wealthiest 10% think they do not have enough and continue to hoard more and more to the detriment of everyone else.

  • Denton Kees

    Voluntary charity is doing a lot: food banks, housing for the homeless and abused, response to disasters, etc. What is Paul Ryan thinking? He cannot be a Christian, or if he is, he is not listening and heeding the Word.

  • WI Realist

    Don’t forget the VP candidate Ryan who arrived at the soup kitchen after it had closed, but still took the photo opportunity to wash a couple of clean trays with his children in front of the television cameras. The same man who paid for college largely though the very same social security benefits he now wants to take away from others. He is, like most of the other politicians in DC, simply a self-promoting, narcissistic opportunist.

  • JonThomas

    People, never forget that the Government IS the people. Well, it’s supposed to be…

    If a program is “cold,” as Rep. Ryan suggests, it’s only so because of the people like himself who hold government positions.

    Government has the resources to prevent fraud and deter fraudulent claims, community groups and churches do not.

    It is largely through government that the current paradigm has been designed. Interest groups, powerful people, and large corporations have created the conditions in which people with no power or resources are left to starve.

    The wealth and pensions of the common person has already been looted through Wall Street and Banks, or legislated out of existence by the lobbied congress which serves business interests before people.

    It is incumbent on the groups which have manipulated the system in their own favor to AT LEAST provide a net. The only reason that Rep. Ryan, the Kip Chalmers of today’s real world, wants to put the burden on community groups and churches is so he can further push the Government into the hands on the powerful interests, and out of the hands of the people. It’s a further divestment.

    Finally, without the safety nets, those who are stealing this country, the 1% who Rep. Ryan does his work for, can have even less of their incomes taxed. The government will be working solely for these influential people and groups. Common people will have even less of a say. They will have no vested interests, they will be forced to work for extreme low wages or actually starve.

  • Robert Bidney

    Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes. My song, PILL FOR POVERTY, speaks to the millions who struggle. You can listen to this song on YouTube. Here is the link:
    Thank you for listening.

  • Brian Williams

    Ryan doesnt care about helping people…the Ryan/Obama Amnesty scheme to flood the US with 30 million uneducated toilet cleaners which will bankrupt our country and cost 6.3 TRILLION dollars in new taxes will destroy the US and cause more hunger..SHAME ON RYAN!!

  • ted

    The trouble with the Washington bureaucrats is that most and/or none of them have ever missed a meal in there entire life before. I say they it should be a mandatory assignment condition before entering the office serving the public. That you have to live and survive with your family for one month on a seven dollar per hour job. No outside interference or help from anyone period. Home to be provided by a family already trying to survive in a neighborhood of poverty ridden people fighting for survival. THEN we would maybe get some attention from the do nothing stuffed shirts in washington. OH and of course we would have to provide protection from the bad guys. We would not want them to get hurt.

  • ted

    Who said his mother ever had to ask for assistance?. If she did thats ok but i doubt it. This is part if not all of the problem in Washington most politicians came from a family of MONEY. They no nothing notta about poverty. Or doing without a meal.

  • Old Sailor

    Of course Ryan doesn’t want to hear her voice! Written testimony is NOT the same. What is he afraid of; the truth is what.

  • Anonymous

    As a Wisconsinite who has observed Paul Ryan (who was born into privilege in one of our wealthiest communities) for years, I can assure you that he has consistently indicated that he is a classic sociopath. It’s not that he actually hates anyone. He is simply void of empathy, incapable of caring about the impact of his agenda on anyone other than Paul Ryan. Telling him what it means to be impoverished in a nation like the one we have today is utterly pointless.

  • Anonymous

    Missing a few meals just gets to be routine. No big deal for adults. It wouldn’t kill legislators to try it. What really gets to a person is this: Millions of us are a single illness, a single job loss, from losing absolutely everything, even our children (thanks to Clinton’s welfare “reform”). Low wage workers don’t earn enough to put anything into savings. How do you get another job once you no longer have a home address, phone, bus fare? It’s the end of the line, and for many, suicide is preferable. In a nation with a severe job shortage, no options for the jobless, and nothing but contempt from the elitist middle class of this generation, hopelessness kills. Media marketed to liberal middle classers (MSNBC, etc.) ignore poverty,waving the Middle Class Only banner (consumers of their sponsors’ products).

  • Anonymous

    What is so appalling is that welfare actually DID work. It provided just enough stability to enable the overwhelming majority of recipients to keep their families together, housed and fed, so they could get back on their feet. As for that “culture of dependency” caused by AFDC: Before “reform,” over 80% of AFDC recipients quit welfare for jobs by the time their children started school. What middle classers couldn’t grasp is that trying to survive on roughly $4,000 AFDC per year was never preferable. Long-term recipients were those with multiple barriers to employment (illiteracy, serious health problems, etc.). Ending aid didn’t change that. Welfare was key to protecting middle class wages/jobs; today, we’re entirely at the mercy of employers. I read that some 80% of middle classers support mandatory (super-cheap) workfare replacement labor. Who do they think have been getting replaced???

  • karensc

    Paul Ryan is waging war on the poor, not poverty. There’s a BIG difference!!

  • Professor

    WOW DH, what you write about Ryan is scary! Your definition of a sociopath is accurate. Thank you for the comment–coming from a Wisconsinite you are in a position to see up front and close up how Ryan operates, after all Wisconsin is his home base.

  • Mr.RightNOW!

    Yet … if you TAXED every single individual who makes 100 grand a year and up at 100% you could only fund the govt a month …. ..That;s how much we spend ….. ..So you tell me who “has the money?” ….. And if were spending “so much” how come theirs still poverty? or is that another racket?

  • Mr.RightNOW!

    The govt run by Bureacrats are NOT THE PEOPLE! But the Peoples masters …. and still … Yet … if you TAXED every single individual who makes 100 grand a year and up at 100% you could only fund the govt a month …. ..That;s how much we spend ….. ..So you tell me who “has the money?” ….. And if were spending “so much” how come theirs still poverty? or is that another racket?

  • JonThomas

    I saw that you had posted the same basic comment… twice. Looks like one was removed.

    So, I have to wonder a few things.

    Do you post antagonistic comments just to make it look like there is a valid opposing view?

    For example…You mention “another racket…” what is the first racket? I never mentioned a ‘racket’ in my comment. Sounds like maybe you just use a pre-written response that you post whenever you see anything about taxes.

    Secondly…it’s not only individuals who are responsible for taxes. Then, there are even different types of income which is taxed at different rates.

    That leads us to wonder about your statement about monthly Government spending. You didn’t provide any proof of your statement.

    Unfortunately, comments like the ones you posted are written to sound valid, but people who think about issues know better than to fall for cleverly written propaganda comments which lack credibility.

  • JJ

    Ryan’s looking to get a shot at the presidency….. just a shell game