Spotlight Exclusives

Is Providing an Adequate Safety Net a Non-Partisan Issue?

Posted on

We at OOTS were intrigued recently when a Member of Congress said that “providing an adequate safety net for Americans who have fallen on hard times is a non-partisan issue in Congress.” As the web۪s leading “big-tent” forum on poverty, Spotlight is always eager to hear elected officials and others make the case that poverty is something folks from both sides of the aisle can and should talk about.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


This statement came from Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH), who continued “It۪s [an adequate safety net] something all of us agree on. As is making sure government does not stand in the way of Americans who want to work to achieve a better life and to fulfill the American Dream.”


Tiberi۪s comments, part of a joint Ways and Means Committee hearing entitled “How Welfare and Tax Benefits can Discourage Work,” are surprising given current debates about what constitutes an “adequate” safety net.

The hearing was also notable for personal accounts of poverty, offered by both Tiberi and his Democratic colleague Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI)although each offered starkly different views about how those experiences inform their current views on poverty policy. Said Tiberi:


“I know first-hand of the need for a safety net. When I was in high school, my father lost his job and lost his pension. My sisters and I were on the free and reduced lunch program at our high school. These programs gave our family hope. But my parents got back on their feet, and their hard work is again being rewarded. What is dangerous with the tax code is that it appears to be saying to people who are down on their luck that they will be penalized if they turn their luck around.


Comprehensive tax reform is a chance to fix this problem. In tax reform, we should ensure low-income Americans are not punished through extraordinarily high implicit marginal rates. We should reduce complexity as well compared to the current code where, for instance, taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit are more likely to use tax preparers costing them money from their own pockets.”


Moore offered a different perspective:


“I have personal experience living in poverty and raising young children as a single mother while working, going to school, and sometimes relying on welfare to get by. I can tell you that I didn۪t sit down after a long day of work to calculate the marginal tax rate۪ of government benefits to determine my choices. I think that the panelists here todaywho make it sound like low-income women get home every night and pore over a spreadsheet to figure out how much they۪ll be taxed on the next dollar they earn, or their next dollar in benefitsneed a bit of a reality check. They۪re showing very little understanding of the day-to-day factors that affect people۪s decisions about work, child care, education and much more.”


The statements show that even a shared commitment to discussing poverty, its causes and its solutions doesn۪t preclude debate, disagreement, or partisanship. But it۪s still noteworthy when an elected official of either party calls providing an adequate safety net “non-partisan” or when a congressional hearing features not one, but two Members۪ personal stories of poverty.

Posted by Sam and Sarah

Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn’t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and their impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

« Back to Spotlight Exclusives