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Best way to help the needy is through independence

by U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe | October 20, 2016 at 11:48 p.m. | Updated October 20, 2016 at 11:49 p.m.

Since America's founding, many of our nation's leaders have laid out intricate visions for eradicating poverty. One of the most extensive and far-reaching plans was created in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, when he set out to "not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it, and above all, to prevent it." However, more than 50 years have passed, and our poverty rate hovers at about the same level as it did when President Johnson first launched his "War on Poverty." Acknowledging this ineffectiveness, President Ronald Reagan said, "The Federal Government declared war on poverty, and poverty won."

Instead of lifting folks out of poverty, our country's vast web of federal assistance programs has failed to cure the root of the problem. Rather than focusing on getting people back to work, these efforts, which carry a price tag of about $1 trillion of state and federal spending each year, haven't provided the tools folks need to do better for themselves. But it's not surprising to see failure on such a grand scale when we rely heavily on government bureaucracy and duplicative programs to provide solutions. Instead, we must fully leverage the positive outcomes that can stem from homegrown efforts in our local communities.

When people lose a steady source of income, priority automatically shifts toward ensuring their most basic human needs are met-food, clothing and shelter-the essentials needed to survive. Not surprisingly, that's why we have 17 federal assistance programs run by three different federal agencies that are specifically targeted at providing food to those in need. But as well-intentioned as these programs are, a slip of paper or a plastic card delivered in the mail lacks an extra layer of compassion that can only be offered through community efforts that aim to meet the same end. And compassion goes much further in helping to truly heal the problem at hand.

As I travel across the 18 counties I'm proud to represent, I've been enlightened to see great work being done to alleviate hunger on the community level. Just this week, I traveled to Texarkana to attend a fundraiser for Harvest Regional Food Bank, which serves an expansive area across Northeast Texas and Southeast Arkansas, including Bowie County in Texas' 4th District. By utilizing volunteers and donations, this organization has processed more than 2.5 million meals in 2016. More than 90 percent of its revenue goes directly towards immediate food distribution-a model of efficiency all levels of government should strive for. The more than 3,000 hours logged by volunteers of Harvest Regional Food Bank reinforce the notion that there is no federal program that can ever replace the desire to love and care for your neighbor.

It's certainly uplifting to see the tangible results that can be offered by the simple desire to help those in need, and I applaud Harvest Regional Food Bank's CEO, Camille Winkle, for her tremendous efforts leading this organization.

As I join my conservative colleagues in fighting for fiscally responsible methods to address poverty that are truly effective at putting people back to work, it is absolutely critical that we not forget the huge assets we have in our communities with organizations like Harvest Regional Food Bank. Seeing such successful efforts coming from the goodness of people's hearts inspires me as I continue working toward a better way to ensure that folks in need can free themselves from government dependence and be empowered to accomplish their goals. I'm grateful to have been sent to Congress to defend the promise of America for every citizen, and I'm confident that through a combination of redirected federal efforts that embrace, instead of smothering, community involvement, we'll be headed in the right direction.

For more information on the House Republican plan to combat poverty, check out Better.GOP.


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