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Patty M.
Democrat WA

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  • Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Patty Murray

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    MURRAY. Madam President, I come to the floor this afternoon to talk about the fact that 50 years ago today President Lyndon Johnson made his first State of the Union Address. He used that date--January 8, 1964--to chart a new agenda for the country and to declare that America would take on an unconditional war on poverty. With that directive, Congress worked on some of the most successful programs in the history of our country: Medicare, Head Start, Pell grants, and expansions to Social Security. President Johnson knew that the devastation of poverty went deeper than just the lack of a job or the lack of basic needs. Americans in poverty didn't even have a fair chance to make a better life for themselves and their families.

    Now, since 1964, economists estimate the poverty rate has now fallen by 10 percent when accounting for social safety net programs. So we are moving in the right direction, but we have a lot more work to do to give everyone the fair chance they need to succeed in this country.

    For too many people today, the war on poverty is a daily battle just to make ends meet. More than 46 million people in our country live in poverty--46 million people. That is according to the Census Bureau. More than 20 percent--that is one in five of our kids in this country-- live in poverty. So to win this fight, we need to strengthen the programs that support those in need.

    Without question, one of the reasons we have seen a decline in poverty is because of the programs that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable Americans. In 1964 Congress created the food stamp program for those struggling to feed their families. Today it is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or better known as SNAP. In 2012 alone the program lifted 4.9 million people out of poverty, according to the Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities.

    We have also worked to make sure preschoolers from low-income areas have the building blocks they need to start kindergarten ready to learn. Since the mid-1960s Head Start has provided early childhood learning and health services to more than 30 million children and their families.

    That is the kind of progress we have to continue. Those programs and many like them have provided economic security and opportunity to millions across the country.

    Yet even with the successes we have had in fighting hunger and ending unemployment, there are those today here in Congress who want to slash the very assistance that gives so many Americans today an opportunity to make better lives for themselves and their families.

    We can't waver in the fight to give all Americans a fair chance--a fair chance to get ahead. We have to expand opportunities for young learners by investing in universal pre-K. We have to ensure that workers can earn enough to put food on the table by raising the minimum wage. We have to keep fighting, and we have to win the war on poverty.

    I know personally how vital these programs are. When I was just 15 years old, my dad, who fought in World War II and was a veteran, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Within just a few years he couldn't work anymore. My mom found a job. She stayed home to raise seven kids. The job she found wasn't enough to support seven kids, and my dad had a growing stack of medical bills. All of a sudden, my family, without any warning, had fallen on hard times.

    This country at that time didn't turn its back on us. For several months my family relied on food stamps. It wasn't much, but it helped us get by. With the help of a government program--a government program--my mom was fortunate to attend Lake Washington Vocational Technical School and got the training she needed to get a better job so she could support her family. My older brother, my twin sister, and I were able to stay in college because of student loans and support from what we now call Pell grants--all from this government.

    Even through those hard times, none of us lost hope. With a lot of hard work--and we had help from our government--we were able to get to where we are today. That is why I believe so strongly that here in Congress today, we have to expand that hope I had as a young girl to many more families and Americans who are struggling today.

    Fifty years ago President Johnson recognized that poverty is a national problem, and that is why he made it a national priority. So I think we ought to rededicate ourselves today to that national priority. Let's work together here to support the men and women across the country who hope for their chance at the American dream. Let's not just commemorate this anniversary; let's begin to use and have a renewed energy to winning the war on poverty in our country once and for all.

    Thank you, Madam President.

    I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Hawaii.

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