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Steny H.
Democrat MD 5

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  • Poverty and Its Impacts on American Families

    by Representative Steny H. Hoyer

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    HOYER. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding.

    No one more than Congresswoman Barbara Lee in this House has been focused on how we lift those in poverty out of poverty and into the middle class.

    {time} 1800 Of course, as she so well says, it will be good for those in poverty, but it will also be good for all the rest of us. They will help build a better economy. They will help grow jobs, and they will help America be stronger.

    Mr. Speaker, I am honored to join my friend, Chairwoman Barbara Lee of the Democratic Whip's Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity, for this Special Order.

    I also want to thank Chairman Cleaver of the CBC's Poverty and Economy Task Force for the work that it has done in this area.

    Mr. Speaker, poverty is bad for your health. Poverty is bad for your mental health. Poverty is bad for children. Poverty is bad for families.

    More than 50 years after President Johnson declared unconditional War on Poverty, 46 million Americans are still struggling in poverty. That is not to say we haven't made some progress. There are programs we have adopted.

    Frankly, Medicare is a tremendous poverty program. Our seniors are better off, and far less of them are in poverty because of Medicare. Medicaid is a critical program to make sure that those who cannot afford it are, nevertheless, given health care, which is important for all of us to have healthy citizens with whom we deal on a daily basis.

    Ours, Mr. Speaker, may be the wealthiest nation on Earth, but we can best measure America's economic success not by how many are at the very top, but how few are stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder. By that measure, we have a long way to go to fulfill America's promise as a land of equal opportunity and of success.

    Even in 2015, the lines between rich and poor trace the old divides of race and background, with 29 percent of Native Americans, 26 percent of African Americans, and 23 percent of Latinos living in poverty.

    Poverty also strikes, of course, our rural communities. In fact, in many respects, there is more poverty in our rural communities than in our cities and urban communities. It is more visible in our cities because they are aggregated; although, we ought not to forget that literally--as I just mentioned about minorities--millions and millions of nonminorities struggle in poverty every day. Poverty strikes children at a higher rate, unfortunately, one in five children in America, as our leader says.

    The task force we launched and which Barbara Lee chairs has been working hard to raise awareness in Congress of these very real and very difficult challenges of poverty in America and to provoke policies that help alleviate suffering in the short term while working to eradicate poverty over the long term.

    Speaker Ryan has raised poverty as an issue on which he is focused, and he has visited areas of poverty in our country. We could recognize poverty. We can visit those in poverty. But what it is important to do, Mr. Speaker, and what Barbara Lee is leading us to do, is to adopt policies that almost eliminate, reduce, and empower those in poverty.

    The number one rule on the War on Poverty, of course, ought to be first, do no harm. This means making sure that we refrain from disinvesting in the critical programs that serve the poor and help millions stave off hunger, homelessness, and disease. Mr. Speaker, we ought to have those criteria in mind when we consider the appropriations bills, tax bills, and other policies that affect our people.

    Thankfully, the recent bipartisan budget deal prevented the return of sequestration's severe and painful automatic cuts, which would have disproportionately harmed the most vulnerable in our economy. Now Congress has a responsibility to follow that up by passing an omnibus and avert a shutdown.

    However, not doing further harm is not enough. Congress has a responsibility first and foremost to help create jobs that put Americans back to work and enable them to rise out of poverty and, as Congressman Coleman Watson indicated, to make sure that, when we ask people and give people the opportunity to work, we value that work and pay them a living wage.

    We cannot enable people to rise out of poverty if it keeps lurching from one manufactured crisis--when I say ``it,'' our policies here in Congress on budgets, on debt, on investment, and on taxes--to the next. If we lurch from one crisis to another, we will not be able to succeed in enabling and empowering those currently in poverty. We need to work together to invest in education, workforce training, and innovation to make our workforce more competitive and open doors of opportunity for those looking to get hired.

    We also, Mr. Speaker, need to expand assistance for housing and nutrition as well as access to health care, especially for children. Poverty need not be a cycle and should not be a cycle from generation to generation. That is debilitating certainly for them, but we ought to all recognize it is debilitating for us, our communities, and our country.

    The promise of America has always been that this cycle can be broken. That is what we think about America. Even if you are born in circumstances that are tough, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can rise above it. We need to make sure that we give them that opportunity.

    We need to take steps to make sure that hard work pays off, that those who have jobs can earn enough not only to get by, but to get ahead. This means making child care more affordable for working parents, enacting paid leave to care for sick loved ones, and raising the minimum wage.

    The new Speaker, Mr. Ryan, has indicated he takes very seriously the issue of poverty, as I said. I hope we can work together to address that problem in a serious, responsible, and effective manner. Not to do so would be a grave disservice to the future of our country and its people.

    One area he has suggested we might find agreement is in expanding the earned income tax credit to childless adults, which could lift an additional half a million Americans out of poverty. In addition to that, we ought to index the ITC, we ought to index the child tax credit, and we ought to index the opportunity tax credit so that we can empower and enable those who are working, those who have children that we want well-cared for and safe to be more productive citizens.

    I thank, again, Chairwoman Barbara Lee and all of the members on the Democratic Whip's Task Force on Poverty, Income Equality, and Opportunity and the CBC's Poverty and Economy Task Force, led by my good friend Representative Cleaver, for all the work they are doing to wage this War on Poverty with the determination and purpose this challenge requires.

    I thank the gentlewoman for her leadership.

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