Tom Reed visiting Rochester, walking with Mayor Lovely Warren and residents
Office of the Congressman Tom Reed

Growing up in upstate New York with eleven siblings and a single mom to care for all of us, we have experienced the many hardships faced by those who are living in poverty. After the loss of my dad when I was two, my mom raised me and my siblings with a military pension and a Social Security benefit check, never remarrying. We remember eating a lot of egg sandwiches for dinner because, at the time, that was all we could afford. Despite these obstacles, my mom always taught us to rise above life’s challenges, and to never forget where we come from. Years later, I put myself through college, law school, and eventually went into business for myself, but I never forgot what it was like growing up in those circumstances.

In fact, the experiences that I had growing up in life’s toughest situations inspired me to run for office in the first place. I sought out public life simply because I care. I care about the issues facing millions of Americans, and I believe that it is only fair we make every effort to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to succeed.

Serving in Congress, I have had the opportunity to meet with women and men, not only in my home district (NY-23), but across the nation to discuss poverty issues facing everyday Americans. Whether it is visiting impoverished neighborhoods in Rochester, N.Y. where businesses once thrived, feeding hungry children in Cleveland that rely on a local food bank for meals during the summer, or preparing sandwiches for children in Olean, N.Y., the answer is clear; the status quo is not working and we need to fight to change policies that keep people tangled in the web of poverty. Americans deserve a hand up and the dignity that comes with a good honest day’s work.

This is why we need to advocate for common sense policy reforms. We need to support policies that promote the American work ethic, not penalize it. We need to increase accountability for large government programs that help those in poverty to ensure the assistance is accomplishing a new goal — getting people out of poverty, not the old metric of simply declaring success based on the number of dollars spent or people seen.

Simply, if a single mom and her children walk into a social service agency seeking a hand up through life’s hard times and have not seen their situations improve in five years, can we truly say the system is working?

If veterans have been living on our streets for years because the process to get the benefits they so rightly deserved has become convoluted, is our system working?

If a young person, plagued by inner city violence, acknowledges the only way out is by getting an education, but is failed by that same education system that haunts many of such schools, can we honestly say the system is working?

The answer is obviously, no.

When welfare reform was enacted 20 years ago, it was signed into law as part of a bipartisan effort. I am confident we can do this again. With everyone working together, we can strengthen our social safety net. It’s time we stop looking at people experiencing poverty as mere statistics but as Americans; Americans that deserve and need a better way. And we offer that better way.

To learn about our plan, visit reed.house.gov.