Listening to the most important voices

Over the last year, I have urged my Republican colleagues to include the most important voices in the debate on poverty: the Americans that live the harsh realities of poverty, day in and day out.

Despite several hearings and a hyperpartisan report to mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Republican-controlled Budget Committee has yet to hear from a single person actually experiencing poverty. 

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We have not heard from one working mother living paycheck to paycheck, a father struggling to afford childcare in order to work or a family unsure of when they will be able to next buy food for themselves and their children.

I am pleased that Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) accepted my request to allow Tianna Gaines-Turner, a member of Witness to Hunger, to testify before the Committee. Tianna is a remarkable woman, a wonderful mother and one of millions of low-wage workers trying to make do on too little. 

For too long her voice and the voices of millions of Americans struggling with poverty have not been heard nor part of the debate. 

Tianna is not a statistic. She is a person. A person that is working hard to provide for her family, playing by the rules and still barely scraping the pennies together to cover bills and groceries.

I hope my colleagues will join me in asking Tianna questions to gain greater insight into the lives of the quarter of American workers that are working hard and still struggling to make ends meet.

While working to share Tianna’s story, I have been moved by her experience and her positive spirit.

After hearing from her, I hope my colleagues will come to the same conclusion that I have reached - that we must take immediate action to address poverty and create opportunities in order to help people like Tianna build a path to the middle class.

Congress can effectively help Tianna and millions of our constituents by taking immediate action to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 while working toward a living wage.

This action will lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty.  It will not help everyone - but ending poverty has to start somewhere and 4.6 million is a good start.

Secondly, Congress should pass my bill to cut American poverty in half over the next decade with The Half in Ten Act (H.R. 2182).  It is a straightforward measure that will coordinate the federal, state and local anti-poverty spending to ensure the problem of poverty is effectively and efficiently tackled.

Ending poverty will not be easy but it is the job of Congress to preserve and protect the American dream for all. Taking action to address poverty by creating jobs and opportunities is simply the right thing to do.

Last September, Tianna wrote for The Hill, "I am not writing this to ask for a hand out. I don't even want a hand up, I want a hand in."

Today, I am glad to say that Tianna will get her hand in by adding her voice to this urgent conversation about poverty in America. Unfortunately, her story is only one amongst the millions of heartbreaking realities that American families live every day.

Now, that we have finally heard Tianna’s story; it is time we act.

Lee has represented California East Bay congressional districts since 1998. She sits on the Appropriations and the Budget committees. She is chair of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and co-chair of the Out-of-Poverty Caucus.