Shaefer testifies before Senate Finance Committee at hearing on welfare and poverty

October 29, 2015

Luke Shaefer testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee today in a hearing on welfare and poverty in America. During his testimony, Shaefer offered recommendations for reforming safety net programs (such as TANF) and provided insight into poverty in America.

Shaefer spoke to the inherent problems of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program, namely its funding design, which he argues incentivizes states not to invest in effective programs, and the countless loopholes states have found to skirt requirements.

TANF provides cash assistance to needy families with dependent children under the age of 18. 

Shaefer, whose research focuses on the effectiveness of social safety net programs as well as rising levels of poverty in the U.S., coauthored $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, which details the lives of Americans in extreme poverty.

When asked to provide a single recommendation for what Congress could do to begin to address poverty domestically, Shaefer drew on the input he received from the families chronicled in the book.

“I would make a concerted effort to increase economic opportunity at the very bottom. I would see if we could make the next generation a jobs generation,” Shaefer said. “And I think these types of initiatives should probably be place-based … and can be done through public-private partnerships.”

He also made note of the importance of and need for a holistic approach that incorporates “wrap-around services to not only help place families into jobs, but keep them in those jobs as they experience crisis points.”

Several on the committee praised $2.00 a Day during the hearing for its thorough analysis and the personal stories it shared.

“Many of us who are progressive really think so highly of your book,” said ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). “We’re quoting it, using it, and talking about it frequently.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Ford School commencement ceremony, also commended Shaefer’s work on the book.

$2.00 a Day, coauthored by Johns Hopkins Professor Kathryn Edin, has garnered national attention since its release in September. 

H. Luke Shaefer is an associate professor of public policy and social work. His research focuses on the effectiveness of the United States social safety net in serving low-wage workers and economically disadvantaged families. His recent work explores rising levels of extreme poverty in the U.S.

--Story by Paul Gully (MPP '16)