Ben Carson has claimed poverty is a "state of mind" that can be overcome with the right attitude.
The housing and urban development secretary under Donald Trump and former GOP candidate for the presidency made the comments just as cuts were announced to his department.
In an interview released by SiriusXM, he said that poverty "to a large extent is also a state of mind".
"You take somebody that has the right mindset, you take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee in a little while they'll be right back up there."
"And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they'll work their way right back down to the bottom."
"You know, that's real poverty," he said. "If you don't have that defeatist attitude, there's hope for you."
"I think the majority of people don't have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don't see the way and that's where government can come in, and be very helpful," Carson added. "It can provide a ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that we demonstrate to them what can be done."
He claimed that people who had a "defeatist attitude" were being prevented from escaping poverty.
The comments, which were made at a town hall, came just as the Trump administration's maiden budget announced plans to make cuts of more than $4bn to Carson's department.
Housing cuts would see four programs axed. including the self-help and assisted homeownership opportunity program and schemes aimed at helping poorer neighbourhoods.
Overall, more than $26bn of cuts have been planned for the 2018 fiscal year, which would see 66 federal programs axed.