Tom Price, an HHS Secretary Focused on Helping People Work?

President-elect Donald Trump is pretty close to filling out his Cabinet, and among the most interesting selections is Rep. Tom Price, the congressman from Georgia who is currently chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price was named as Trump’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, which is fitting since Price is a doctor, a rarity in the position, but important because Price is also a strong proponent of eliminating waste and reducing the misuse of taxpayer money.

The cherry on top of the selection, however, is what Price’s nomination, and a few others, means for anti-poverty programs, or more specifically, government’s role in helping people who actually are in poverty.  HHS manages a gigantic sum of the federal budget. Price’s future department is responsible for administering Medicare and Medicaid payments as well as oversight of The Affordable Care Act. In 2017, HHS is expected to manage $1.145 TRILLION in outlays (money to be distributed, not used to fund programs).

But the agency also manages several other programs that many Americans might be surprised to learn. That includes heating oil for low-income families, medical assistance for military families, and emergency services after natural disasters. HHS runs 19 offices that provide programs and services to low-income Americans, including cash welfare, child care, and Head Start, to name but a few.

That’s a lot of responsibility for helping people get on their feet, so it is notable that while serving as House Budget chairman, Price’s committee issued a Budget Resolution that focuses on several areas that seek to empower individuals. Such empowerment comes from reforms to government assistance programs that aim to encourage people on welfare to work while also preparing lower-income Americans for jobs in exchange for benefits.

As an aside, Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for Housing and Urban Development, will handle a much smaller budget, but he too has a great opportunity to help reduce poverty. If he is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan on his anti-poverty agenda, as reports say, this is a chance to really change the way the government does business in developing low-income communities, paying for housing, and encouraging people to find work or develop skills that can move them from dependency to self-sufficiency.

Much of the scholarly focus in recent years on poverty reduction is trending toward work in exchange for benefits and tax credits that empower and enable individuals to achieve successes for themselves. At the same time, the safety net needs to be made taut and real for those truly incapable of getting out of poverty without a helping hand. Whether the trending conversation results in a more prosperous society will determine whether the big change from the Obama to the Trump administration is matched by a big change in the way government runs itself.

As poverty researcher Angela Rachidi recently wrote,

Any changes that are made to anti-poverty programs in the coming years will ultimately be judged by whether they help people escape poverty through work and personal responsibility, and less government intervention. Recent declines in poverty suggest that these trends might already be starting. Surely, voters looking for more economic opportunity and less hardship will be paying close attention.

One place for voters to affix their gaze is at HHS and Price.