House Republicans Team with Poverty Fighters to Unveil Upward Mobility Agenda

(From right: House of Help City of Hope director Bishop Shirley Holloway, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and resident Bernard Vaughan)

Republicans from the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) on Tuesday unveiled a series of new proposals aimed at combatting poverty and expanding opportunity. Accompanied by Bishop Shirley Holloway, a well-respected faith and community leader in Washington, D.C., the Republicans spoke at House of Help City of Hope, a rehabilitation center located in the predominantly low-income and black neighborhood of Anacostia.

The anti-poverty announcement was the first of a series of policy proposals House Republicans are unveiling this month to tackle some of our country’s major problems. The initiative is called, “A Better Way, Our Vision for a Confident America.

With Republicans hoping to win back the White House after losing two consecutive presidential elections, the Party of Lincoln is becoming increasingly more assertive and fluent in talking about ways to reduce poverty, blunting the Democratic Party’s line of attack that Republicans do not care about the poor.  

In a nod to the limits of what the federal government can actually accomplish when tackling poverty, Republicans at the press conference stressed the importance of involving local organizations such as House of Help City of Hope, which was featured prominently in Opportunity Lives’ “Comeback” documentary. The rehab center is located a short drive from the Capitol Rotunda, and serves people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. listens at left as Bishop Shirley Holloway, director of the House of Help City of Hope in Anacostia, one of Washington's poorest neighborhoods, speaks during a news conference in Anacostia, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, where Ryan proposed an overhaul for the nation's poverty programs. At far right is House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. The proposal would make changes to welfare, food and housing aid, among other programs, to increase work requirements, make the aid more efficient and allow states to make more decisions about how it is distributed. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Bishop Holloway addresses the media outside her House of Hope City of Help rehabilitation center. Bishop Holloway has helped thousands of D.C. residents combat addiction and get back on their feet.|  Photo: AP

“Government needs to be humble enough to realize that it does not have all of the answers,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who chairs the influential House Budget Committee.

Nonetheless, Republicans did provide a number of themes that will guide their approach to reducing poverty, including improving job-readiness while encouraging able-bodied adults to work. Moreover, House Republicans are promising to make it easier for individuals and families to save, particularly for retirement.

Ryan and his colleagues also repeated the importance of tailoring government assistance benefits to individual’s needs and recognizing that what may work for one individual may not work for another. In his remarks, Ryan referenced the story of Bernard Vaughn, a recovering crack-cocaine addict that was able to beat his addiction after enrolling in rehabilitation programs offered at House of Help City of Hope. Ryan told the reporters gathered at the event that Vaughn had two words in response to his question on how he was able to beat his addiction: Shirley Holloway. According to Ryan, Bishop Holloway was able to impart on Vaughn the dignity that comes with self-restraint.

Members also talked about improving the way the government measures the efficiency of the more than 80 means-tested welfare programs. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said the goal is to bring integrity to the programs. “We want to make sure the dollars get to those who need it the most in a way that helps them the most,” Brady said. “Those principles are what drive a better way of combatting poverty in America.”

“Government needs to be humble enough to realize that it does not have all of the answers”

Other House Republicans not present at the event spoke effusively of Ryan and the task force responsible for coming up with the framework. “Speaker Ryan understands the importance of creating opportunities for people to rise out of poverty and help rebuild America,” House Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Opportunity Lives. “Instead of giving handouts, our welfare system needs work incentives and a strong partnership program to help every American achieve their potential.”

Still, the policy rollout was not without skeptics. Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Opportunity Lives that Ryan’s plan “misses the mark” because there is not enough emphasis on the successes of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform act, which stressed self-sufficiency through work requirements. What’s needed, Sheffield said, is more focus on “address[ing] work and marriage — the greatest protectors against poverty — as well as fraud and excessive welfare benefits.”

Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Republican proposal is a “great step forward” and a “serious plan.” Funding programs that work and abandoning programs that do not work enjoy widespread popularity. “Lots of Democrats agree with this and know that this is smart policy,” Doar said.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter:@IzzyOrtega.