Last week, I sat in the basement of an apartment complex in the poverty-ridden Anacostia community of Washington, D.C., listening to Bishop Shirley Holloway tell a story that I wish every American could hear.
Bishop Holloway runs a program known as House of Help City of Hope, which helps people stuck in poverty with a special focus on those who struggle with addiction. The success stories are amazing. I heard from former drug addicts and alcoholics who had reached such low points that they didn’t want to live any longer. Once they got into Bishop Holloway’s faith-based program, they turned their lives completely around.
I think the federal government can learn a lot from Bishop Holloway’s program. She doesn’t rely on large government programs, but instead she depends on faith, hard work, and love.
You see, poverty is a serious issue all across the country, including right here in Southwest Alabama. We have both rural and urban poverty throughout our area. The poverty rate in Monroe County is almost 30%, while the poverty rate in Mobile County sits right around 20%. Nationally, Alabama’s poverty rate is sixth worst in the country.
It is clear that our nation’s current poverty programs are not working. Just look at the numbers. We have spent around $22 trillion dollars since the “war on poverty” started in the 1960s, yet the poverty rate has hardly changed at all.
The problem is that we treat poverty like a chronic disease that cannot be cured. We spend all our time trying to help people cope with poverty instead of guiding them out of poverty and toward a better life. The programs are failing the very people they were supposed to help, and we can do better.
After meeting with Bishop Holloway, I joined some of my House colleagues in announcing a “Better Way” agenda to fight poverty. Our agenda attempts to get at the heart of what causes poverty and offers policy solutions to help lift people out of poverty.
Our plan builds off of programs like that of Bishop Holloway by ensuring that we are tailoring benefits to meet the needs of people. A top-down, one-size-fits-all system of poverty-fighting programs clearly does not work. We need to encourage innovation and flexibility.
Most importantly, the agenda puts a real focus on work. If you are capable, we should expect you to work or prepare for work. There must be some sort of accountability system for those who simply refuse to look for work.
Now, I understand that a big issue is people may lack the skills needed to find a job, so our agenda emphasizes improving our job training programs. From my time as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, I have seen the miracles that can be worked through our community colleges and technical schools.
I have seen people who are poor receive the job skills they needed to take advantage of the jobs that exist in 21st Century America. They literally get these jobs, and they leave poverty and government dependency behind them.
That is what our “Better Way” agenda is all about: giving people the tools they need to live the lives they want to live instead of just giving them another government program.
By doing this, we can bring people out of poverty while saving taxpayers money and growing the U.S. economy. This is an issue that every American – regardless of your political beliefs – should rally behind. It is an issue that can make a real difference in communities all across the United States.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.