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The Nation

It's Time for 'Poverty in the Trenches' Hearings

Congressman Paul Ryan said that the Republicans “don’t have a full-fledged” plan to fight poverty “because we need to do more listening to people who are in the trenches fighting poverty.”

This is the first time I’ve ever written these words: I completely agree with Congressman Ryan.

President Obama said he is focused on “ladders of opportunity” for those “still suffering poverty wages” or “struggling to get full-time work.” He said he will lay out his ideas for strengthening access to the middle class, including “reducing poverty.”

“Some of the ideas I offer will be new. Some will require Congress. Some I will pursue on my own,” said President Obama.

I respectfully submit that to push an aggressive agenda to reduce poverty—and especially to create the kind of popular pressure needed for Congress to support it—a whole lot of work needs to be done to bust the myths and stereotypes that surround the issue.

One of the best ways to do that? Hear directly from people “in the trenches fighting poverty”—many of whom are living in poverty themselves.

So here is my proposal: a series of hearings—not a one-off, or a summit—featuring people who know poverty firsthand—those living in it, and those who are on the ground fighting it.

Both parties should be allowed an equal number of witnesses—none of this “majority gets three witnesses, minority gets one witness” silliness. Let’s have an open, fair and respectful debate—the kind Americans are always telling Congress that they want to hear.

I’m confident that the facts are on the side of an aggressive and progressive anti-poverty agenda—a strong minimum wage, affordable childcare, access to adequate food, nutrition and healthcare, for example—and that we will see that many of our anti-poverty programs are working. I’m also confident that when we hear directly from people in poverty, the stereotypes about fraud, dependence and laziness won’t hold up.

I don’t know if the correct forum is the Senate, House or Executive office—maybe all three, in a coordinated fashion—hearings in Congress, and forums led by the White House. But it’s definitely time to have this conversation.

“Everybody cares that we get people out of poverty,” said Congressman Ryan.

Great, now everybody can prove it. Open and fair hearings—let’s have them.

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Greg Kaufmann

Greg Kaufmann

Greg Kaufmann is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Editor of

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