Melissa Harris-Perry, 8/2/13, 8:00 PM ET

Dear Paul Ryan, hear from someone in poverty

Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Open Letter” goes out to Rep. Paul Ryan, who this week held a hearing on poverty without actually hearing from poor people.

Paul Ryan, you’ll need a safety net to actually fight poverty

Updated

Last week on this show, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee said she would ask the House Budget Committee chair to invite our guest, Tianna Gaines-Turner, to testify about anti-poverty programs. Tianna is a “Witness to Hunger” and a married mother of three who receives food stamps and other federal benefits to help make ends meet.
But the Republican chairman of the committee refused to have Tianna at his “war on poverty” hearing. My letter this week is to that chairman, Congressman Paul Ryan.
Dear Congressman Ryan,
It’s me, Melissa.
Look, it’s great that you had a hearing on poverty. That you asked whether we’ve made any progress in the “war on poverty” in the past 50 years. I’m glad you had four experts on poverty programs, including our favorite nun-on-the-bus, Sister Simone Campbell.
But you know what would have been a hell of a lot better? If you heard from someone who’s actually living in poverty! Someone who’s working, and still struggling to feed and clothe her children, and to afford health care. Here’s the kind of thing you may have heard from Tianna, describing her life on our show in May:

“Food insecurity is not just a depression or a stress for an adult. It’s very much on the minds of young children every day. And I don’t understand how people can sit and sleep, knowing there’s a child somewhere, 8 years old, 4 years old,  worrying about, is my mom gonna eat?”

You had the chance to hear her, Congressman Ryan. But you refused, only allowing Representative Barbara Lee to enter Tianna’s written comments into the record. Would things have been different if she was there? Would you have been able to look Tianna in the eye while telling her that you care about the poor?
At the start of the hearing, you said you want to find ways to lift people out of poverty. You said:

“This is about improving people’s lives. In this country, the condition of your birth shouldn’t determine the outcome of your life. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. That’s something we all believe in. That’s something we all care about.”

But your budget proposals paint a very different picture. Your so-called “Path to Prosperity” budget would cut $135 billion from SNAP.  You know, the food stamp program that helps feed 22 million American households a month. Let’s put that in perspective. That’s more than six times the amount House Republicans proposed cutting in their farm bill this earlier year.
Even that much smaller cut–$20.5 billion, to your $135 billion–would be devastating to American families.
According to a new study by the Health Impact Project, the (comparatively small!) $20.5 billion cut could result in 5.1 million people losing their food stamps, including more than one million children. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would go hungry. Is that something that we all believe in, congressman?
The study also found that the SNAP cuts in the farm bill–again, a tiny fraction of the cuts you want–would increase the poverty rate. Not exactly lifting people out of poverty. And that an increase in hunger and poverty would lede directly to an increase in diseases like diabetes and heart disease in adults, and asthma and cognitive impairment in children.
Tell me, congressman, how exactly that’s “improving people’s lives.” And your plan doesn’t even save any money! The increase in diabetes alone could cost $15 billion more in health costs over the next decade. And the impact from the cuts you want, Congressman Ryan–it would be six times worse.
Could you look Tianna Gaines-Turner in the eye and say you want to improve her life, while taking away the means to feed her family? Could you keep a straight face? Since you refused to allow her at your poverty hearing, I’m guessing not.
Sincerely,
Melissa

Paul Ryan, you'll need a safety net to actually fight poverty

Updated