Yesterday House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) held a hearing on poverty. The only problem was he wasn’t interested in hearing from any actual poor people.
Mariana Chilton, director of Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy program for low-income Americans, has twice tried and failed to have some of the group’s poverty-stricken members testify at the hearings, which began last July. “Too late,” she was told both times, “we’ve already chosen our people.”
A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines featured three witnesses: Bishop Shirley Holloway, founder of House of Help City of Hope; Robert Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
“They had a stronger interest in having a more well-known person to testify. None of the people who are testifying 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,” Chilton remarked.
Ryan’s office tried to get off the hook by suggesting she submit written testimony instead, but the document sent in last year by Tianna Gaines-Turner seems to have disappeared. The piece submitted this time by Barbie Izquierdo will probably suffer a similiar fate.
Gaines-Turner, a married mother of three, was disappointed by Ryan’s refusal.
"On the panel you have experts on hunger and poverty, but I’m the true expert. I’m the one who lives these daily struggles every day, who runs out of money at the end of the month every month, has faced homelessness, hunger, poverty. Not to knock the people that are there, but if you want to really understand, you need to speak to the people themselves firsthand. We’re real people, not just numbers.”
Izquierdo pointed out that written testimony does not have the same impact as the physical presence of the witness.
"Speaking is one of the most important things you can do. You can write something, but there’s something different when you’re telling your story and they’re seeing your face and attaching your emotions to the written word. One of the most important things to take away…is that people who are asking for the help actually need the help, and that these programs can work and people on public assistance can be productive citizens, we just need a chance. We just need to be looked at as human beings.”