A Republican legislator is traveling across Pennsylvania to learn more about the state’s 1.5 million people living in poverty.
Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who chairs the House Majority Policy Committee, embarked on what he’s calling “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.” Reed is looking to assess the government’s role in fighting poverty in urban, suburban and rural areas.
Reed said the government’s efforts in fighting poverty need to be evaluated.
“We’re one of the wealthiest, most developed nations in the history of the free world,” he said, “but we still have 46 million Americans living in poverty and we spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on anti-poverty efforts and at some point folks have to begin to question, ‘Are we being as effective as we could be with those dollars?’”
Reed started his tour in mid-July and expects to continue into the fall.
As of 2011, 15.9 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. Here in Pennsylvania, that number is 13.9 percent.
While Philadelphia County has the highest poverty rate in the state at 27 percent, several of Pennsylvania’s rural areas have a poverty rate above 18 percent; including Forest (22 percent), Fayette (19.7 percent) and Indiana (18.2 percent), according to 2011 U.S. census data.
The poverty line for a family of four is an annual income of $23,550.
Reed has received criticism from both Democrats and Republicans because of his history with pushing bills that would make public assistance more difficult to obtain.
“Generally, if you’re getting criticized from both sides, you must be doing something right,” he said, “because you’re probably at the point where 80 percent of Americans are, right in the middle.”
In 2011, Reed introduced a package of bills entitled “WelFAIR” that would cross-reference welfare applications through 19 different databases to be eligible for the program, mandate photo identification cards and increase penalties for fraud.
While Reed said his legislation was meant to cut down on welfare fraud, many of his critics said the bills would make applicants jump through unnecessary hoops to receive public assistance.
Reed is hoping to take what he’s learned from the tour and apply it to reform the state’s fight on poverty.