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OP-ED: Every Citizen Should Have the Opportunity to Succeed

Far too many Americans are trapped in the cycle of poverty and can’t find their way out.  America has spent trillions on Washington-based anti-poverty programs over the last 50 years and more Americans than ever (46 million) are still stuck. We keep putting a bandage on the problem to make poverty more tolerable; but poverty shouldn’t be tolerated.   People should have the opportunity to succeed based on their own dreams and abilities.

This year, the U.S. House has outlined a vision to do just that.  We want to restore America’s confidence and introduce a bold reform agenda focusing on growing jobs and economic growth, improving health care, strengthening national security, restoring Constitutional authority, and reducing poverty by increasing opportunity, hence giving every American the chance to pursue their dreams.

I know what some of you may be thinking:  “A conservative Republican wants to tackle poverty?”  Well, why not?

Unfortunately, this is an issue with which I’m all too familiar.  I grew up without knowing my biological father.  My mother and stepfather struggled with unemployment. Our house had neither running water nor electricity.  One of my earliest memories is being on the end of a two-man saw with my brother, cutting firewood to heat our home for the winter. I took baths in a steel tub on the porch.

My story isn’t new or unique.  Many of us grow up in tough circumstances or fell/fall on hard times. We grit our teeth and struggle through, sometimes accepting help from others, including public assistance. I took my first job at 13, picking fruit for less than the minimum wage. I worked at myriad jobs until I finished my education and eventually applied the skills I’d picked up to start my own small business.

These experiences taught me not only about humility but also perseverance – that life values hard work in any form. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of all working-age people (18-64) in poverty in 2014, about 62% didn’t work at all, and nearly 27% worked less than full-time.  Continued government intervention has done little to help; what we need is more opportunity to work.

An issue I’ve been focused on is better matching the needs of potential employees and employers.  I’ve met with countless small manufacturers in the 4th District that have good-paying jobs available and desperately seek skilled employees; which is why the House is developing legislation to strengthen America’s social safety net to better assist those in need to enter, reenter and remain in the workforce.

The goals of this effort are to: promote opportunity for every American to get ahead by removing government-imposed barriers to success; increase the skills / training of workers and job-seekers so they’re equipped to compete in a rapidly changing economy; fight fraud to ensure limited taxpayers funds go to those truly in need; and better prepare America’s youth for success in school and the workplace.

A great example of the last point is Youthbuild. Currently, at least 2.3 million low-income 16-24 year-olds in the U.S. lack the necessary education or training to meet their employment potential. Most of these young people have talent, energy and intelligence that’s being wasted simply due to a lack of opportunity. Youthbuild trains low-income youth in construction, technology and other jobs skills, and helps them participate in community service and leadership development.  The 4th District hosts Youthbuild programs in Harrisburg and York, and I’m proud to support them.

 Moving forward, we must prioritize fighting poverty on the front lines in our communities. More money and regulation from Washington simply isn’t the answer. Some of the ideas we’re working on include: increasing flexibility to state and local governments to promote new ways to help those in need and foster seamless cooperation across assistance programs; expecting able-bodied adults receiving welfare to work / prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits; increasing personal income security through improved retirement savings and access to affordable financial services; and strengthening early childhood education by improving coordination between federal and state efforts and empowering families with a variety of choices.

We’re in the early stages of developing these reforms and I encourage – and seek – your feedback. If you don’t like the ideas I’ve mentioned above, please offer me better ones. I know this for sure:  46 million people in poverty is a National disgrace. We keep throwing taxpayer money at a system that creates dependency by making poverty as tolerable as possible; poverty is anything but tolerable.  Instead, our goal should be helping all Americans – regardless of social or economic circumstance – earn their own success. Everyone must have the opportunity to live their own American Dream.
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