This past Tuesday, President Trump released an executive order titled “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.” This executive order directs his cabinet to enforce social programs’ existing work requirements and if no work requirements exist, propose work requirements. This affects all welfare programs from food stamps to housing. Additionally, the executive order requires secretaries to find savings in their programs and provide states more flexibility in operating welfare programs.
We here at Unison Housing Partners (Unison) applaud the President for his interest in “promoting economic mobility, strong social networks and accountability to the American Tax Payer” and hope to partner with the administration in said pursuit. It is for this very reason that we call upon the President and his cabinet to take the appropriate and necessary steps to ensure that evidence-based research and the voice of program participants informs the decision-making process over the next 90 days. Without the vital input from those who are experiencing poverty, how can we expect to craft a set of policies that will empower rather than punish? Without the voice of practitioners, how will we partner across agencies, providers and networks in ways that allow for innovation and reform to translate into outcomes that are sustainable and address generational poverty?
Policy recommendations cannot and should not be limited to elected officials and civil servants dictating policy to those receiving benefits, for that is a dynamic that will doom the initiatives to failure. I can share with you that as an executive who works hand in hand with those experiencing poverty and with my staff who are entrusted to serve these individuals and families, the farther away from real life experiences I get the harder it is to craft solutions that put the people we are serving’s interests first. At Unison we have a saying “With opportunity comes accountability” and this is where the President’s Executive Order has a direct correlation with those who are working diligently to accomplish what the title of this order states.
In order to accomplish the vision that lies at the heart of the executive order we must build a foundation constructed of facts, not myths about those living in poverty. At Unison, the majority of households who receive a housing benefit, decreased rent at an affordable property or a Housing Choice Voucher, are members of the working poor. When re-envisioning the social safety net, our work should be inspired by the question “is our overall strategy and methodologies driving the results that benefit those experiencing poverty, and thus our great nation?” Doing so allows for bipartisan solutions that resist stereotypes and outdated methodologies.
We propose that the most fundamental component of any solution to poverty is more housing, regardless of how the discussion regarding work requirements plays a part in the accountability matrix. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s research finds that “there are just 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 lowest income families. As a result, 71% of these families pay at least half of their income on rent, forcing them to make impossible choices between paying rent, buying groceries or medicine, and investing in their futures through education or training.”
We look forward to the discussion to come and are optimistic that the proposed solutions will empower American families and individuals rather than punish them for their economic status.
Learn more about the work that Unison is doing to provide affordable homes for those who need it and how you can help at www.unisonhp.org