Congressional Black Caucusby Representative Rosa L. DeLauro
Posted on 2014-01-08
DeLAURO. I thank the gentlelady for her leadership and her
indefatigable pursuit of this cause and the focus of not just this
caucus but the country on the issue of poverty and of the poor.
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood right behind where I stand now and urged the Congress to join him in working to end poverty in the United States. He said to this body: We have in 1964 a unique opportunity and obligation--to prove the success of our system; to disprove those cynics at home and abroad who question our purpose and our competence.
If we fail, if we fritter and fumble away our opportunity in needless, senseless quarrels between Democrats and Republicans, or between the House and Senate, or between Congress and the administration, then history will judge us harshly. But if we succeed, if we can achieve these goals by forging in this country a greater sense of union, then and only then can we take full satisfaction in the State of the Union.
That opportunity and obligation to prove we can work together, and to do everything we can to end poverty in America, remains with us in 2014. And right now, we are failing that solemn obligation to the American people.
For decades, slowly but surely our efforts in fighting poverty have been making a difference. If you include the social safety net that President Johnson and later generations helped to construct, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012.
This was achieved because, in the past, we have always worked to ensure that a rising tide lifts all boats, that the gains of prosperity are felt broadly, and that in tough times, Americans who fall behind have a chance to get back on their feet.
But recently, we have seen this House majority choose to break this long-standing compact, to turn their backs on the most vulnerable Americans. Consider what they are trying to do to food stamps, our most important anti-hunger program. Food stamps help to feed over 47 million Americans, nearly half of whom are children. For decades, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to pass a farm bill that does right by struggling Americans, even while working to support our farmers.
But even though 99 percent of food stamp recipients live below the poverty line, this majority severed food stamps from the farm bill. They tried to cut food stamps by $40 billion, meaning 4 million Americans would be denied food.
Even the final conference bill will reportedly cut roughly $8.5 billion from the program and deny critical food aid to over 800,000 households. Cutting this aid means kids can no longer concentrate in school because they are quite literally starving. It means seniors getting sick and going to the hospital because they can no longer afford proper nourishment.
To take another example, look at what is happening with unemployment [[Page H51]] insurance. In the past, as far back as the Eisenhower administration, Congress has worked to extend unemployment benefits when the jobless rate was in the 5-7 percent range.
But last month, even though unemployment remains above 7 percent, this House majority refused to work to extend these important benefits. The benefits have expired. What that means is that 1.3 million American men and women have already lost their unemployment insurance, including 26,000 in my State of Connecticut.
Many are people who had jobs. They lost them through no fault of their own, and who in this difficult economy, and even despite education, training, and job experience, still cannot find a job. Even as the stock market is at record levels, we are telling these Americans you are on your own. We are pulling up the ladder on them and closing the hatch. It is wrong. It is not what America is about. Slashing these programs will hurt and derail our economic recovery.
Our top priority in this Congress should be to do everything that we can to create jobs, help workers, help families get back on their feet. That is the moral responsibility of good government.
In the words of Pope Francis, we should all be ``working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty, to promote the integral development of the poor. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment.'' That is the great and the still unfinished cause that Lyndon Johnson dedicated us to 50 years ago.
This Nation is watching. It is time for all of us to step up, work together and do the right thing.
Again, I thank the gentlelady for your focus on this critical issue.