Spotlight Exclusives

House Oversight Committee Focuses on Children’s Issues

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The House Committee on Oversight and Reform launched a two-day series of hearings Wednesday on the impact of Trump administration policies on children’s economic status, housing, hunger, and health.

“This administration is engaging in an attack on children,” Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said at the day’s first hearing, an examination of the administration’s proposed changes to how the poverty line is calculated. “Instead of creating opportunity . . . this administration is prioritizing special interests.”

The hearing, convened by the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, examined the 2019 proposal from the Office of Management and Budget to change how inflation is used to calculate the Census Bureau’s official definition of poverty.

Democrats on the Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), contended that the change would lower the poverty rate and result in many Americans losing eligibility for programs such as Head Start, the national school lunch program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The proposal is “an attempt to gut regulations and programs that protect the health and welfare of our nation’s children,” Connolly said.

An analysis by the center-left Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warned that the change could result in millions of Americans losing benefits over a ten-year period, including more than 300,000 children losing comprehensive health coverage through Medicaid and CHIP.

Subcommittee member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) testified as a witness at the hearing, arguing that legislation she has sponsored, the Recognizing Poverty Act, “would actually measure the amount of poor people in the United States of America. We do not do that. As a consequence, American is in a state of denial about the level of poverty in this country.”

The proposed legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to generate new poverty level guidelines.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee, said one of his concerns was that the hearing was premature, noting that the Trump administration “has taken no action . . . other than public comments” on the proposed change.

Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) joined Meadows in calling for bipartisan cooperation in looking at how best to update the poverty line calculation. “As we sit here today, we can disagree on the causes and disagree on the solutions . . but everyone in this room cares and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

The second hearing Wednesday, held by the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, focused on the new rule proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in January that would reduce the burden on local governments to meet their obligations under the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

The new rule would also scale back provisions enacted by the Obama administration that required communities to take meaningful action against segregation by analyzing housing patterns; areas of concentrated poverty; and disparities in access to transportation, jobs, and quality education.

Subcommittee Chair Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said the rule would erode hard-won gains from the 1968 law and the efforts of the Obama administration to better enforce it. “The Trump administration now proposes a drastic U-turn,” Raskin said. “HUD is proposing to rubber stamp housing plans without serious accountability.”

Witness Jorge Andres Soto, director of public policy at the National Fair Housing Alliance, said the proposed new rule “fundamentally undermines and conflicts with the purpose of the Fair Housing Act.”

“We need a stronger rule, not a weaker rule,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, principal investigator at Children’s Healthwatch, Boston Medical Center.

Subcommittee ranking Republican Fred Keller (PA) said better leveraging the “engine of capitalism” would create more affordable housing and called the Obama-era rule changes “a burdensome paperwork exercise.”

“The Trump rule relies on state and local governments to develop the drivers to identify their own local barriers to housing affordability and propose solutions,” Keller said.

Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute, said the Fair Housing Act should be examined to see if it’s achieving its goals 50 years after passage and saw the HUD proposal as “a step in the right direction.”

He said the action by HUD Secretary Ben Carson marks a “concrete improvement to his department’s enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.”

The proposed new rule, which was unveiled Jan. 8, allows 60 days for public comment.

The Oversight Committee held two additional hearings Thursday as part of its two-day focus on children’s issues. The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held a hearing on the administration’s proposed changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Subcommittee on Environment examined a proposal to change mercury and air toxics protection standards.

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