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Barbara L.
Democrat CA 13

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  • The 50Th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

    by Representative Barbara Lee

    Posted on 2014-01-09

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    LEE of California. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to continue with our 50 floor speeches marking the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty.

    Now, yesterday, we were joined by President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson's eldest daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, to mark the 50th anniversary of her father's State of the Union speech in which he declared an unconditional war on poverty. She reminded us that this was a bipartisan and bicameral effort led by the White House.

    Now, I have shared my own story, reluctantly, in the past of the time in my [[Page H82]] life when I depended on our vital social safety net programs during some very difficult times; but my testimony is only one of millions of other Americans. Many of you may be familiar with the Campaign to Cut Poverty in Half in Ten Years, a project of the Center for American Progress, the Coalition on Human Needs, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Now, they are doing phenomenal work gathering American stories of those who are living in poverty and have been lifted out of poverty, including our own Congressman Pocan's constituent, Amy Treptow's story.

    Amy is here today, and I look forward to hearing Congressman Pocan read her story later on this House floor. Her story, though, is a true representation of the legacy of the war on poverty and the promise of the American Dream fulfilled. Her story is not unlike one of my constituents in Oakland who visited my office here in D.C. last month. After becoming a single mother, Jennifer was forced to stop attending her college courses and take a job making minimum wage as a caregiver. She relied on CalWIC and food stamps to feed her daughters, and her family and friends supported her with her housing and other basic needs.

    Today, two of her daughters are graduates of the Head Start program, which prepared them to start elementary school where they are currently doing very well. And Jennifer was able to finish school and is now working to advocate on behalf of other families like hers who had to turn to the American people in her time of need. Also, I am reminded that one of my former district directors was a graduate of the Head Start program. He is doing phenomenal work raising a family and living the American Dream.

    These are stories of resilience. They are the stories of millions of Americans who are facing homelessness, hunger and unemployment, if it weren't for a safety net. In my home State of California, 6.3 million people--17 percent--lived in poverty in 2012. And in my district in Oakland, California, 18 percent of the residents live below the Federal poverty level, including one in four children.

    While the richest segments of our population continue to prosper nationally, income inequality traps millions of the working poor in poverty. Many low-wage workers must rely on food stamps and Medicaid just to survive--which our colleague Congressman Al Green just brilliantly laid out--just to survive while CEOs are making megabillions with government subsidies.

    As a recent study by the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan showed, in any given month, 1.7 million households live on a cash income of less than $2 per day. Now that is comparable to many living in the developing world. Yes, $2. I said $2 per day. Now, that is here in America, the richest Nation on this Earth.

    In an economy that, despite recent gains, there are three unemployed for every one job opening, it is really a shame and a disgrace that 1.3 million people lost their lifeline as Republicans continue to refuse to extend emergency unemployment compensation. Now, these individuals' checks should arrive or should have arrived this week. Unfortunately, they did not. What in the world are people going to do now? This is heartless, it is mean-spirited, and, of course, to add insult to injury, many of these people lost about $35 in food stamp benefits last November.

    Yes, the economy has gotten better for some, but has left millions behind. Fifty years ago, the safety net was put in place just for times such as these. That is why it is so important to share stories like Jennifer's and like Amy's. Vital social safety net programs are still needed. We need to stop this war on the poor. We should have a cease- fire on the war on the poor. We have a moral and we have an economic obligation to make investments in economic opportunity and jobs.


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