Among the accomplishments touted by President Trump during his State of the Union address was the drastic decrease in the number of Americans on food stamps, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., claimed during an emotional House hearing that the government has its collective head in the sand when it comes to poverty statistics.
Placing the blame on the government as a whole, Ocasio-Cortez claimed that Washington lawmakers are refusing to acknowledge the severity of poverty in the United States.
"Seven million people have not been lifted off of food stamps in this country, they were kicked off food stamps in this country!" Ocasio-Cortez said. "And people are going hungry. They are going hungry because we like to use the word lift instead of the truth, which was kicked. And we are booting millions of Americans into the streets because we want to believe and dupe ourselves into thinking that we’re doing better. We are not. We’re not."
The New York congresswoman's diatribe was part of a hearing before the House Oversight Government Operations Subcommittee titled “A Threat to America’s Children: The Trump Administration’s Proposed Changes to the Poverty Line Calculation.” It was the first of four such hearings taking place before House Oversight subcommittees Wednesday and Thursday.
Ocasio-Cortez has sponsored a bill, known as The Recognizing Poverty Act, that would have Congress determine a new, updated poverty line that takes into account factors such as family size and geography.
"For so long in our country, poverty has been a taboo word," she said. "It is something that we're not allowed to talk about. It is something that we have difficulty acknowledging, and even in the presence of this legislation. This legislation that I am putting forward along with my colleagues is literally just to recognize poverty in America. That's it. Just directing someone, agencies to just measure the level of poverty in this country."
The Office of Management and Budget has proposed changing the role of inflation in the formula for calculating poverty. It would use a lower estimated inflation rate, which could result in fewer people qualifying for government assistance. A senior administration official told The New York Times in May 2019 that restricting access to programs was not the government's goal, and that it had been 40 years since the factoring of inflation had been altered.
Ocasio-Cortez's bill does not specify a proposed poverty line, but in September she floated the number of $38,000 a year. Current poverty guidelines, which went into effect Jan. 15, 2020, list $12,760 as the mark for an individual.
Government Operations Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., claimed that the hearing was "premature" because the administration has so far "taken no action" that warrants such concern, and has only made public comments. Still, Meadows said this was "a critical issue" and that poverty "is still a present-day problem" that requires bipartisan action.