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Steny H.
Democrat MD 5

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  • Congressional Black Caucus

    by Representative Steny H. Hoyer

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    HOYER. I thank the gentlelady for taking this time. I thank the gentlelady even more for taking the time and the focus and being indefatigable in making sure that the richest Nation on the face of the Earth focuses on the least of these in our country. I thank her for her leadership. I am proud that she is working on the Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. And in chairing that effort for our caucus, she is doing an extraordinary job.

    {time} 1630 It is time, however, that all of us continue to do an extraordinary job. When President Johnson stood in this Chamber at that rostrum, Mr. Speaker, on January 8, 1964, he declared an ``unconditional war on poverty in America.'' That has been said so many times today. He launched a legislative agenda that led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and nutrition assistance for those at risk of going hungry, particularly our children.

    Today, thanks to that war on poverty, infant mortality has substantially decreased, childhood malnutrition has fallen significantly, and college graduations have risen.

    But that is not to declare victory. There is much yet to be done. The poverty rate for senior citizens in 1959 was 35 percent. Today, it is 9 percent thanks to the New Deal and Great Society programs. Food stamps continue to keep as many as 4 million Americans out of poverty, which is why it is so critical to provide robust SNAP funding in the farm bill, Mr. Speaker.

    Fifty years, a half a century after President Johnson launched the war on poverty, as we take stock of the progress we have made, we must be candid in assessing the difficult challenges that remain before us. That is what Congresswoman Lee is bringing to our attention and to the attention of the country.

    Following the Great Recession, and with long-term unemployment higher than it was a few years ago, millions of our fellow Americans are today teetering on the edge of poverty while others still have yet to escape its grasp. In 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 50 million people in America were poor in the richest land on the face of the Earth, and more than one in five of those were children.

    States and local governments, under pressure from reductions in Federal funding for domestic programs, are struggling to maintain the safety net that, for a generation, have placed a floor under those who have lost a job, fallen ill, or were born into dire circumstances.

    As middle class families have strained under the difficult conditions of the recession and its consequences, the lowest-income Americans have been forced to endure a severe lack of opportunities to enter the middle class. We want to promote jobs. We want to make sure the middle class can succeed, support themselves and their families and have the kind of life that we dream of and promise as an American. We also want to make sure that those who are not middle class can get into the middle class.

    In his State of the Union address in 1964, President Johnson said this: Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

    Poverty is the result, not the cause. Central to our ability to sustain the American dream is our responsibility to one another to make upward mobility possible.

    Right now, 1.4 million Americans--right now, Mr. Speaker--are worrying about meeting their basic needs since emergency unemployment insurance was cut off on December 28 of last year, [[Page H49]] 3 days after Christmas, the season of giving, the season of caring, and the season of thinking about those who are in need. Every week that goes by without turning this lifeline back on will see another 72,000 Americans lose their emergency income.

    Congress has the ability to restore these benefits right now, and Democrats, proud of our history leading the war on poverty, will continue to push and demand for that extension. Democrats will keep fighting for a strong, secure, and growing middle class by working to raise the minimum wage--and I see my friend from Maryland (Mr. Delaney) in the back of the Chamber; Congressman Delaney has been leading an effort in our State to make sure that we raise the minimum wage--and making sure the Affordable Care Act expands access to quality health care as intended.

    We must also create a pathway to citizenship and opportunity for undocumented workers who are living in the shadows in poverty as part of comprehensive immigration reform, and we must be vigorous in enforcing our laws that prevent discrimination in housing, hiring, and access to education.

    Mr. Speaker, if we are to make serious progress in the war on poverty in the years to come, it will have to be as a result of both parties working together to prioritize economic opportunity and upward mobility.

    Mr. Speaker, I will say that there are Republican leaders, and I applaud them for it, who are talking about and focusing on those in poverty, those who have little in our country. I applaud them for talking, but talk is not enough. We must invest in making sure that they can avail themselves of the promise of America, not by telling the most vulnerable Americans that they will have to fend for themselves, that their fellow citizens will not lend a helping hand during their time of need.

    I'm glad, Mr. Speaker, that President Obama has chosen to make reducing economic inequality a focus in 2014. This, Mr. Speaker, ought to be our sacred charge: to carry on the work that President Johnson and others began, without pause, until hunger, homelessness, and economic insecurity, in any form, no longer endanger the promise of our Nation.

    I thank the gentlelady for her leadership and for yielding.

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