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Op-Ed: We Have a Better Way to Fight the Cycle of Poverty

Like everyone, I want my children to grow up in a nation of opportunity and prosperity, where the American Dream is a reality; yet not all parents are able to provide their children with an opportunity to create a positive future. All Americans – regardless of social or economic circumstance – should have the opportunity to live their own American Dream.

Unfortunately, some feel that opportunity no longer exists. A recent CNNMoney poll found that 59% of Americans believe that the American Dream is fading; if you’re raised poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago—despite decades of political promises, countless government programs, and trillions of tax-payer dollars. One in five Americans, both in urban and rural areas, are living in poverty; in our York County alone, that adds up to more than 45,000 people. That’s a disgrace.

We can’t give up. And we also can’t keep hoping for change by doing the same things over and over – the same things that never worked in the first place.  

I speak from experience, having spent most of my childhood in poverty. Our house had neither running water nor electricity, and I took baths in a steel tub on the porch for longer than I care to remember. My story isn’t unique; many of us grew up in tough circumstances or fell/fall on hard times – but we grit our teeth and struggle through. My personal experience taught me not only humility, but perseverance – I took my first job at 13 picking fruit for less than minimum wage. I learned early on that life values hard work in any form.

A recent Gallup poll, unsurprisingly, poll found only 16% of Americans are satisfied with the federal government’s efforts in addressing poverty. 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.  Failed government intervention won’t solve this problem; what we need is more opportunity for employment. The American work ethic is the bedrock of our culture, passed along through generations, powered by hundreds of years of economic expansion, and are the pillars of our modern way of life. The people of Pennsylvania—and America—deserve a real strategy to combat poverty.  We need a better way.

Fortunately, we have one.  House Republicans have put together a comprehensive plan to fight poverty in a fiscally responsible manner. First, if you’re capable, you must be expected to work, or learn skills to prepare you better for employment; this basic principle will be incorporated throughout all federal anti-poverty programs. Second, these programs will match individual needs - whether food, housing, energy, or child care - rather than the current one-size-fits all approach. Third, accountability and collaboration will be a priority; i.e., success will be measured based on actual, real results, not the sheer number of programs and how much taxpayer money we spend. Fourth, we’ll break the endless cycle of poverty by making sure poor kids have better opportunities to succeed at every stage - childhood through college. Every child has potential and can break the poverty cycle when hard work meets opportunity. Finally, we’ll make it easier to plan for the future and be retirement-ready by expanding access to 401(k)s, basic banking services and affordable retirement advice.

Importantly, at a time when we’re already near $20 trillion in debt, this plan includes no additional government spending and, instead, reallocates funds from bloated, failed programs towards results-oriented initiatives that incentivize work. We’ve 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 trying to make poverty more tolerable – but it’s never tolerable.  We've got to fix the problem, not bandage it.  People must have the opportunity to succeed based on their dreams and capabilities, and this plan is a good step in that direction.

To learn more about our plan, please visit

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