Davis Opening Statement at Human Resources Subcommittee Hearing on “Jobs and Opportunity: Local Perspectives on the Jobs Gap”
(As prepared for delivery)
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His work remains unfinished.
At the time of his assassination, Dr. King was focusing the civil rights movement on economic justice and the opportunity gap that exists in this country. Indeed, I am proud to represent North Lawndale, the community in which Dr. King lived as he directed attention to the structural barriers that keep groups of Americans poor.
If communities lack quality education, economic opportunity is limited.
If communities lack transportation, affordable housing, and employers offering good jobs, economic opportunity is limited.
If communities lack substance abuse services or job training programs, economic opportunity is limited.
I hope we can agree that if we have a gap between available jobs and the Americans searching for opportunity, it is our obligation to close the gap by knocking down the obstacles keeping people from work, not by vilifying workers who have fallen on hard times and who need our help to overcome barriers. The executive order the President issued yesterday, which instructs his agencies to find ways to cut services and basic necessities for people who are poor or don’t have jobs, is exactly the wrong approach.
For our Subcommittee, the right approach must include addressing structural barriers in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or TANF. Otherwise our policies will fail our rural, urban, and suburban constituents who hit these barriers daily and are being left behind.
I work closely with a number of programs in Chicago that work alongside employers to provide real opportunities for people who have been left behind by the labor market and are hitting walls every time they try to get good jobs and make a better life. But as I talk to these outstanding workforce development programs, I am struck by how few of them get any support from TANF, which is in this Subcommittee’s jurisdiction.
TANF provides $16.5 billion a year in state grants which are supposed to support work and ensure that low-income families can access basic necessities like food and housing. If TANF is not supporting these local education and training programs that lift workers up into good jobs and put them on a path to better things, that is TANF’s failure. And Congress has set TANF up for that failure.
TANF includes arbitrary limits on education and training, even though we know a lack of skills and credentials is a key reason why many struggling parents cannot find good jobs. TANF provides states with incentives to reduce the number of families being helped, but no incentives to knock down barriers or provide real opportunities for parents to find good jobs that will lift their children out of poverty. And TANF’s investment in children and families is shrinking every year, as states divert TANF funds to fill budget gaps and the federal government funding is not adjusted for inflation.
Right now, TANF is creating additional roadblocks to good jobs for people who were already facing barriers. Our Subcommittee has the chance to make TANF a key to unlocking economic opportunities and continuing Dr. King’s work. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we can lift people out of poverty and close the opportunity gap.