The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rep. Levin: Republican poverty blueprint shouldn’t attack poor families

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., writes that Republican proposals on poverty are moving American families backwards. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Outrage Machine is regular opinion column by voices from the left and right on Washington.

Fifty years ago, we as a nation declared a war on poverty and began our mission to create policies that help lift families out of poverty, improve nutrition and health care, and promote work. This effort has succeeded in reducing poverty in America by nearly 50 percent in 2014.

Now, there’s definitely more work to do. Today, 47 million Americans live in poverty, including one in five children.

But to suggest that our current policies have done more harm than good is pure myth. Slashing or undercutting these programs – as Republicans are expected to propose again next week in their latest ‘blueprint’  – would be an attack on families living in poverty, not on poverty itself.

[Inside Paul Ryan’s quest to set the Republican agenda]

There isn’t much disagreement that the best path out of poverty is a good job. However, even as American businesses have added nearly 15 million jobs in the longest streak of job growth on record, more jobs haven’t yet translated into a significant reduction in poverty.

We need to do more to make sure that Americans who work hard don’t end up in poverty. That means raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, ensuring food and housing support, protecting access to health care for those moving into or between jobs, providing more meaningful assistance for childcare, and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

We also need to make sure that Americans have the skills they need to compete for good-paying jobs so they can climb the economic ladder.

Making college more affordable is crucial to achieving that goal, and so is increasing access to training programs for high-demand jobs. And preparing Americans for good jobs shouldn’t just start as they are getting ready to enter the workforce – there is considerable evidence that helping our children through quality early education improves their employment status later in life.

Finally, we need programs that help individuals who have temporarily fallen on hard times, such as a strong unemployment insurance program. We also need insurance programs that help those who paid into them while they were working, so that they had income when they couldn’t – like Social Security.

Instead of tackling these problems head-on and building on programs that work, Republicans have put forward proposals that have proven time and again to move American families backwards.

Cutting childcare and other services funded by the social services block grant, which Republicans voted earlier this year to eliminate, will not increase opportunity — it will deny it to up to 30 million Americans.

Slashing support for higher education – including Pell Grants – as required under the Republican budget, will not help people climb the economic ladder, it will rip that ladder away. And eliminating food assistance for 13 million Americans, also suggested by the Republican budget, will not reduce poverty and hardship, it will increase it.

Republicans will put a shiny new cover on their poverty ‘blueprint’ next week, but its contents will be more of the same harmful rhetoric. Millions of American families currently living in poverty need action on real proposals, not more rhetoric.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) is the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.