You don’t have to look very far from any spot in America to see what poverty looks like. For many in poverty, another way of life is something on TV and seemingly not obtainable.
In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” While well-intended, census data shows that 52 years and trillions of dollars later, the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8 percent) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7 percent).
Should we keep doing the same things? Or find a better way? A way for parents and their children to see themselves achieving their dreams and getting the most out of their talents and abilities. A way for all to embrace the opportunity that is America.
Over the course of the last several months, House Republicans have gathered the best ideas from across the country and mapped out a better way to tackle poverty in our nation. We’ve laid out a plan, an agenda called “A Better Way.” This “better way” offers struggling Americans expanded opportunities – not expanded government.
A large part of this plan focuses on incentivizing and rewarding work. No one in need of assistance should be penalized for taking a job or advancing in their job.
The most productive reform for any capable human being is employment. In a small Southern Ohio town, below a beautiful mural of people at work, are the words: “To rejoice in his labor, for it is a gift from God.”
Yet I’ve heard time and again across Ohio and America that for many receiving government assistance, it may not always pay to work. For many, climbing the income ladder at work results in drastic cuts to government assistance all at once, making it more beneficial not to work at all. Why do we punish people simply because they showed promise and worked hard?
At the Bethany House Shelter in Cincinnati, many women there report their frustration with the federal system. Often, when the opportunity for work presents itself, they are faced with their children losing health care coverage.
Essentially, then, these women are penalized for trying to improve their situation in life and instead find themselves in a government system that paralyzes their future.
This should never be the case. That’s why House Republicans’ Better Way plan proposes a more modest “sliding scale” for government benefits: as you earn more income, your benefits are slowly decreased to ensure you always come out ahead. Hard work, success, and personal achievement should be recognized and rewarded, not serve as a barrier.
Our Better Way plan contains more changes like this at the federal level, which are key to lifting people up and out of poverty, but our plan also emphasizes the major role local actors play in helping the impoverished in our communities. In Southern Ohio, employers, charities, and other groups are battling poverty on the front lines and empowering people to achieve their American Dream.
Take Nehemiah Manufacturing for example, one of our small businesses in Cincinnati. Since their founding in 2009, Nehemiah has partnered with local social service agencies to create 100 new jobs geared specifically toward “Second Chance Employees” – individuals who have had challenges finding employment due to criminal records, spotty work history, and/or little training and education. I have met many of the proud, hardworking individuals at Nehemiah that make that company successful.
Those 100 new jobs equal 100 opportunities for meaningful work. One hundred chances to pursue the American Dream. One hundred lives changed for the better. Many more are waiting.
Together, with common sense and dedication to each other, we can do more. There is a better way. Learn more at www.better.gop.
Congressman Brad Wenstrup represents the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve.