Oversight Committee holds two days of hearings on four threats to America’s children

Health
Housing & Homelessness
Poverty & Family Economics

On February 5 and 6, 2020, the Committee on Oversight and Reform conducted an in-depth, two-day series of hearings held by four of its subcommittees to examine the negative effects of regulations proposed by the Trump Administration relating to children. This unique and extensive series of hearings assessed the detrimental impact of the Administration’s actions on child poverty, housing, hunger, and health.

First Focus Campaign for Children was proud to join a broad coalition of nonprofit and faith-based groups from across the nation in support of these hearings. We stand together in the belief that no child in the world’s wealthiest nation should go to bed hungry or be deprived of clean air or be without a safe, affordable place to call home. The proposed rules assessed at these hearings collectively rob children of the American Dream and deprive the future of healthy, happy, productive adults.

Below are a few highlights from the four hearings:

A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes to the Poverty Line Calculation

Not enough kids are poor.

Advocates and experts told members of the Government Operations Subcommittee that current federal poverty guidelines underestimate the number of people experiencing poverty in America and that any changes to the measure should seek to correct that deficit.

“The Federal Poverty Guidelines say that I’m not poor, but I cashed in a jar full of change the other night so that my daughter could attend a high school dance competition,” said Amy Jo Hutchison, an organizer with West Virginia’s Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. “Believe me, I’ve pulled myself up by the bootstraps so many damn times that I ripped them off.”

The hearing, aimed at a Trump Administration proposal to rejigger the poverty line calculation in a way that would shed hundreds of thousands of children and families from benefit programs, was the first in a series of four to be held this week by the Committee. Collectively titled “A Threat to America’s Children,” the hearings will address Trump Administration proposals that side-step the will and intent of Congress by rolling back bipartisan legislation on poverty, homelessness, nutrition and environmental health.

Testimony and questions broke down along party lines. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY), who is sponsoring the “Recognizing Poverty Act,” sat in the witness chair and set the tone by saying even by the flawed calculations, 40 million Americans are considered to be living in poverty.

“We do not want to recognize the level of poverty in this country,” she said, “because if we did, it would be a national scandal.”

The Administration’s proposal assumes that families living in poverty enjoy the same consumer choice and price comparison options as wealthier families, Network Lobby Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell told lawmakers. In fact, she said, their limited options mean they are already living at the very edge. Indi Dutta Gupta of Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Poverty stressed that health, nutrition and other programs that rely on poverty line calculations contribute to American economic prosperity by strengthening children. Republican witness Rob Smith, an African-American Army veteran, and rising conservative pundit, blasted assistance programs as projecting a “soft bigotry of low expectations” and proclaimed that he is “not a victim.” He advocated self-reliance and attributed his emergence from a low-income childhood in Akron, Ohio to a strong sense of self.

Ms. Hutchinson offered lawmakers what she said will be the most effective remedy for children and families experiencing poverty.

“If we start talking more to poor folks and not about them,” she said, “that’s how we’re going to fix this problem.”

A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposal to Gut Fair Housing Accountability

A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Advocates, educators and parents told the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy that the Trump Administration’s proposal to change state eligibility options for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would deny food assistance to nearly 3.1 million people and put free school meals in jeopardy for nearly 1 million children.

“This SNAP proposal is a gut shot to those least equipped to take the blow or to fight back,” said Diane Sullivan, a mom and advocate who calls herself “an expert in the experience of hunger.” She and her children, who live in the high-cost state of Massachusetts, are among the millions who will lose benefits, including school meals. 

Sam Adolphsen, Vice President of Executive Affairs at the Naples, Fla.-based think tank the Foundation for Government Accountability, hailed the Administration’s proposal as a “simple, common sense rule” that would push financially struggling families toward “self-sufficiency” and “the American Dream.” Adolphsen cast the provision in question as an “open door to fraud and abuse,” offering the anecdote of a recipient in Maine who owned an airplane.

“I am not a fraud,” Sullivan said. “I work. I do the best I can, just like everyone in this room. I want the best for my children.”

The Administration acknowledges that the measure would increase food insecurity. According to its own analysis, the Administration estimates that 1.9 million people — 1.2 million of them children— would lose SNAP benefits.

A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposal to Undermine Protections from Mercury Air Toxics Standards