Source: Bryce Covert / Think Progress
On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) held a hearing on poverty called “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines.” While it will feature three experts, none of them are actually low-income Americans who struggle to get by.
But that’s not for lack of trying from some poor people themselves. Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy project that shares the stories of low-income Americans, has tried and failed twice to have some of their members who live in poverty speak at Ryan’s poverty hearings. “When Ryan had his first hearing last July,” Director Mariana Chilton told ThinkProgress, “we wrote to his office to see if we could testify, but they weren’t interested.” While Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tried to get one of their low-income members to speak, it was too late. They were asked to submit written testimony instead.
Chilton’s organization stayed in touch with his office and immediately called his press team when they saw the announcement for Wednesday’s hearing. “They said, ‘It’s too late, we’ve already chosen our people.’” There was one slot left to be filled by Democrats, but that went to Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “I think Marian Wright Edelman is a great choice,” Chilton said. But “they had a stronger interest in having a more well-known person to testify.” That means that once again, the hearing won’t feature anyone who really is on the frontlines of poverty. “None of the people who are testifying today are currently living in poverty and it’s unclear if they really know what’s going on from the perspective of people living in it,” she said.
And the written testimonies they submitted will probably do little to impact the conversation. “They’re submitted and they disappear,” Chilton said. Tianna Gaines-Turner sent in a document last year, and this year Barbie Izquierdo has done the same. “If you look at the July hearing for the War on Poverty, you don’t see evidence of Tianna Gaines-Turner’s submitted testimony,” she added. It’s not on the website for the hearing, despite her requests to his office that they include the document, although it has been included on page 64 of the record. Izquierdo’s will probably meet the same fate. “Asking for formal written testimony is a way to let Paul Ryan’s office off the hook,” she said.
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