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Meet the First Poor Person Allowed to Testify at Any of Paul Ryan’s Poverty Hearings

Meet the First Poor Person Allowed to Testify at Any of Paul Ryan’s Poverty Hearings

Written by Bryce Covert

On Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) held a fifth hearing on poverty and the social safety net. For the first time, a person actually living in poverty was allowed to testify.

Tianna Gaines-Turner, a childcare provider who makes $10.80 an hour, a mother of three, and a participant in the advocacy and story-telling Witnesses to Hunger program, testified before the House Budget Committee about her experiences. She submitted written testimony for a hearing last year, even there was no indication on the hearing’s website and it was included on page 64 of the record. But she wanted to speak in person: the Witness program tried and failed twice to have its members testify at these hearings.

“It was a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s finally here,” Gaines-Turner told ThinkProgress about her testimony on Wednesday. “I’m finally getting the opportunity to speak up for so many Americans that are going through life struggles that obviously the committee doesn’t know anything about. I would hope that if they knew, they wouldn’t keep constantly trying to cut the programs in the safety net.”

Gaines-Turner certainly knows what it means to struggle. She and her husband have weathered two bouts of homelessness together and two of her children suffer from epilepsy while all three suffer from asthma, afflictions that mean they all have to take medication daily. “I know what it’s like to be homeless and to couch surf, to miss meals so my children can have a nutritional meal,” she said. “I know what it’s like to wake up every day wondering where the next meal will come from or how to pay the bills today or will someone come today and cut off the water. I’ve been through all of that.”

Her husband works at a food market and makes $8.50 an hour on top of her wages. They’ve both worked jobs without paid sick days, and “if one of the children got sick me and my husband had to decide who stays home with the kid,” she said. “We were grateful to take off the time, but it’s three or four days without pay.”

“I am the best experienced witness that they’ll ever maybe get close to to know what it’s like to walk in my shoes and those of so many other people in the United States,” she said.

Her commitment to testifying and excitement about the opportunity were evidenced by the fact that as of Monday she was struggling with pain from a kidney infection. But she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world… I’ll suck it up and go and be in pain.”

With her testimony, Gaines-Turner hopes to have an impact on lawmakers in Congress. “I’m hopeful that it will change some of their minds,” she said. “The main reason I’m speaking to the committee is to change what’s going on for my children and so many American children growing up in poverty so they don’t have to go through these kinds of things.” She asked the committee to set up a task force with Democrats and Republicans as well as representatives from government anti-poverty agencies and people living in poverty themselves to look at paid sick leave, food stamps, the minimum wage, health insurance, and dependable scheduling. “I’m hoping it will be the beginning of many conversations with the budget committee,” she said.

As for herself, her long-term goal is “that I won’t need to be on safety net programs,” she said. “The long-run goal for me and my family is for me and my husband to find stable work where we can get paid a living wage, offered by our employers medical benefits, 401(k)s, retirement.”

“No one wakes up in the morning and says I think I want to be in poverty today or I want to apply for food stamps, wakes up with the enthusiastic goals of sitting in the county assistant’s office or waiting in the pantry line,” she said. “I feel like so many families in poverty, we learn how to jump hurdles before we walk.” Lawmakers “need to understand that,” she added.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: Peter Larson, Medill News Service via Wikimedia Commons

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112 comments

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12:33AM PDT on Jul 17, 2014

Thank you for sharing!

4:21PM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

Sad thing the underpaid does the kind of work that our society would collapse without them. Non-negotiable wages are the result of overpopulation in respect to jobs.

5:34PM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

ThinkProgress does a fine job, don't they?

4:32AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

Good on her!

4:00PM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

I agree with Ms. Gaines-Turner, unless you have or are living in poverty right now, you'd know exactly how she feels...I do and am living in poverty according to the federal government level, but not at the state level. As for Paul Ryan, he doesn't have the slightest idea as to live like "we" do, not knowing when or where the money is to BUY groceries (no food stamps) or pay bills or what shall I pay this month....food or the roof over my head...of course he "thinks" everyone is rich like "he" is, which is bull-crap.

12:32PM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Good for her for speaking up!

10:20AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

A discussion on poverty and they FINALLY let a poor person speak. The whole think is a sham,

10:08AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

I hope that she made an impact. Given that Ryan is from Janesville and didn't take a lead there in last election is interesting. The reason might be that the GM plant that closed there, was a Major economic factor..from top down.
Ryan labels himself Catholic..anyone can do that.
The Nuns on the Bus were not showing up for rallies to Welcome him. They are focused on helping the poor. Ryan is focused on$$$$$ Ryan

8:34AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Thank you.

8:11AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Did I hear correctly that Rep. Ryan granted the Democrats on his committee only one witness? How many witnesses did the Republicans have?

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