I have been fighting to get on the Ways and Means Committee for 14 years. Here’s why.

I have been fighting to get on the Ways and Means Committee for 14 years. Here’s why.

Milwaukee Community Journal

In 1996, I was a Wisconsin state senator and witnessed through tears as the gavel fell the end of welfare as we know it.  I filibustered on the floor until into the next morning. I had my say, but the Republicans had their final say. It was crushing to witness the support ripped away from struggling mothers and children in our state’s own legislative body.

But the dismantling of the welfare program did not stop there. Six months later, Wisconsin would later serve as the national model when President Clinton signed legislation to take Governor Tommy Thompson’s “welfare reform” to the national level.

At that moment, I knew that I had to join the Ways and Means Committee and fight to rebuild welfare for the rest of my career.

I’ve been privileged to represent Milwaukee since 2005. Throughout my career as a public servant, I’ve learned that the only way to create change is to have a seat at the table. Since being in Congress, I’ve fought hard and long so the poor along with women and children have a seat at this prestigious committee seat. From this seat, I can bring the concerns of dairy farmers, labor unions, single mothers and children, but most of all, the Milwaukeeans to the one of the most important decision-making tables. This important committee oversees government programs that touch every American, like Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid, Tariffs, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), child support laws and much more.

Before the Ways and Means Committee, I had an incredible tenure on the Financial Services Committee, where I fought hard to protect consumers from predatory lenders and created policies aimed at preventing another recession. Since my appointment to the Ways and Committee, I hit the ground running by crafting bold policy that meets the needs of low- and middle-income workers. I am building upon the success of the EITC by expanding and modernizing the EITC to reach more workers and honor all forms of work by expanding eligibility to include caregivers and students. This legislation isn’t making small or modest changes: it is an overhaul and expansion of the most effective antipoverty programs. 

Currently, our safety nets have gaping holes that leave too many women and children with few resources to fall back on, creating an even more marginalized class of women and children. Access to affordable and quality child care for many women, can be the difference between viable employment with a future and poverty-level wages.

I was a poor, single mother who used welfare. I know that the dangerous trope of a “welfare queen” has settled into the minds of some policy makers, including regrettably, those who create our safety net programs.

We broke our promise to the American people and now it’s time to restore our trust by rebuilding the welfare system. We cannot afford to continue failing the single mothers, children and families who rely on our safety nets to stay afloat. Improving the welfare system to meet the needs of low-income families drove my run for Congress.

Republicans champion self-sufficiency but refuse to support safety nets that are truly a ladder out of poverty. It is insulting to tell a person who has no boots to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Poverty is not a choice. Too many Americans are one missed paycheck or health incident from poverty.


Strong safety nets cannot merely keep people above water but transform lives. I am a living, breathing example of the what the possibilities are when opportunity meets access. My journey from welfare to Congress should not be an anomaly.

This is the fight of our time. We can’t afford for our history books to say that we didn’t work to restore our pact with the people. We can only begin to fight the battle of income inequality and intergenerational poverty by investing in programs that give people the tools to thrive. My seniority and decision-making powers on the Ways and Means Committee gives me the opportunity to be a voice for the Fourth District at the most important decision-making table. It was a Wisconsinite who demolished the welfare program, and it will be a Wisconsinite who rebuilds it.


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