The House Budget Committee's major hearing on poverty last week failed to include any person actually living in poverty, a move that upset lawmakers and advocacy groups alike. Instead, Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., encouraged victims of poverty to submit written testimony to the committee.
Now, Tianna Gaines-Turner, a woman living in poverty in Philadelphia, has submitted that testimony, and it's a searing indictment of Republican policies and positions taken by Ryan in relation to the federal food stamp program, or SNAP.
"Chairman Ryan recently said that people need to get involved in their communities and help each other out, because getting together to help each other out is much better than government benefits," she writes. "But, if you actually came into our communities, actually invited us to talk with you about what it's like to be on government benefits, you would learn that government benefits are actually helping us stay healthy."
Gaines-Turner, who is a member of the Witnesses to Hunger program, a program of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University that encourages parents in poverty to speak out about their experiences, describes working to support six children on her and her husband's low-wage, part-time jobs, as they've been unable to get full-time employment. The federal food stamps program, she says, is what keeps her and her family from starving.
House Republican leaders have said they want to cut the SNAP program by $40 billion over the next 10 years, in part because of worries the program is rife with fraud and abuse. Ryan himself has consistently pushed for reform to the food stamp program through massive cuts.
Today, some 46 million people are living below the poverty line – the highest number since the "war on poverty" began 50 years ago. More Americans than ever are using food stamps, with a record 47.8 million people on the program as of December, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But Gaines-Turner disputes the idea that many recipients of food stamps abuse the system.
"Relying on food stamps is not an easy process. When I hear the story about a person buying lobster using their SNAP benefits it is not the reality," she writes. "People on SNAP count every penny they have and cut every corner they can to make sure their children do not starve."
William Allison, a spokesman for the House Budget Committee, wrote in an email that Ryan was "grateful" for the written testimony.
"As she points out, the status quo is broken—and in need of an overhaul. Washington needs to hear from those on the front lines as we renew our fight against poverty," he wrote.
Updated 08/05/2013: This story has been updated to include comment from the House Budget Committee.