The Poverty Problem
By Rep. Kristi Noem
The poverty problem in our country – in our own state – breaks my heart. It’s more than a lack of cash flow. It’s a deficiency of opportunity, of hope. It’s a seemingly inescapable reality for many that is time and again passed down from generation to generation. And the programs put in place to help often perpetuate the problem.
In the last seven years, the cycle of poverty has not only continued, it’s accelerated. Since President Obama took office, around six million more Americans have slipped into poverty.
The path to upward mobility for these individuals and families is lined with obstacles. We have to help break down those barriers. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and as a representative of a state that includes some of the most impoverished counties in the country, I am working to move forward real solutions that restore opportunity and address the root causes of poverty.
That agenda begins with recognizing the best path out of poverty goes through the workplace. Today’s federal programs can help to avoid crisis, but they fail to equip low-income individuals with the tools needed to move up the economic ladder.
There are very few people in this world who want to stay on federal programs their whole life. They want to achieve their dreams. Our system, then, should be focused on getting people back to work, out there searching for a job, or into a training program that will help them launch a career if they are to receive benefits.
But right now, the federal government often disincentives work, and by doing that, it can trap people in poverty. The government has set up cliffs where it can make less financial sense to get a job or accept a promotion than to stay on federal programs. That’s wrong. The incentives system needs to be realigned.
This means we must also redefine “success” when it comes to welfare policy. For decades, success has been defined by increasing enrollment numbers and the dollars spent. It should be defined instead by whether or not the programs are producing meaningful outcomes.
None of this can be accomplished, however, without also improving the integrity of our welfare system. It is wrought with fraud, waste, and abuse. Today, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – or TANF – is the predominant federal program used to support low-income individuals and transition them into the workforce. Loopholes have diluted the program’s effectiveness. Some states have been allowed to manipulate their numbers in order to get taxpayer money without helping people find jobs. South Dakota doesn’t allow for this kind of manipulation and I’d like to see our way of doing things carried out nationwide. I’ve introduced legislation to close this loophole and am actively working to ensure it advances through the legislative process.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan often says: “The condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life. This is who we are as a nation.” I agree, but many – including thousands in our state – don’t see how that could be true for them.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Commerce Department announced South Dakota’s economy grew by an astounding 9.2 percent in the third quarter of 2015 – the largest rate of growth in the nation. That compares to just 1.9 percent growth during that same period nationwide. Still, the poorest county in the country is in South Dakota. These families deserve a solution and I’m committed to offering one that produces more accountability and better efficiency to protect what Middle Class Americans have earned, while also generating greater financial independence and a path to upward mobility for those who need it most. This must be a priority.