Ryan: Safety Net, Economic Growth Needed to 'Lift People Out of Poverty'

Edelman also the U.S. needs to invest in early childhood practices “so that every child, regardless of the circumstances of birth or lottery or geography, is ready for school and has a fair chance to reach their God-given potential.”

“We know that if we properly support children in their early years, not only will they benefit, but so will all America,” she said. “This is not only the just but the smart and cost-effective thing to do.”

It also is essential, Edelman said, to “create an economy that works for all -- not just the very few at the top.

“Congress should immediately extend unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed and increase the minimum wage,” she said. “Unemployment insurance kept 600,000 children from poverty in 2012. An estimated 3.6 million children could be harmed this year if benefits for long-term uninsured are not extended.”

A minimum wage hike should be “an easy lift,” she said, since it would improve the lives of 14 million children. And a higher minimum wage “would help their parents put nutritious food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and ensure they get the healthcare they need to develop to their full potential.”

Republicans in the Senate on Wednesday blocked consideration of legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), one of the lawmakers opposed to the proposal, said raising the minimum wage “creates winners and losers – it will raise the wages of some but result in job losses for many low-income workers. The true problem plaguing impoverished Americans is not low wage rates but a lack of good job opportunities. Raising the minimum wage will fail to alleviate poverty because it will fail to address unemployed or underemployed American workers.”

The GOP also has stood in the way of extending unemployment benefits.

Robert L. Woodson, Sr., founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, also appeared before the committee and said poverty is an ongoing problem not because of “an absence of compassion or commitment. It is an absence of new and effective ideas. The compassion for the poor cannot be defined by how much we spend on them.”

The mistake made in addressing the problem, Woodson said, is the tendency to lump everyone in poverty together when in fact there are many reason people are poor, ranging from those who are “just plain broke” to individuals who hit bottom “because of the chances they take and the choices they make.”

“If the government is to make a difference, it must be willing not only to venture beyond the traditional way of thinking, but it must be willing to challenge the poverty industry that systematically perpetuates dependency and absorbs valuable tax dollars,” Woodson said. “The problem is not an absence of compassion or commitment. It is an absence of new and effective ideas. The compassion for the poor cannot be defined by how much we spend on them.”