The War on Povertyby Representative Marcia L. Fudge
Posted on 2014-01-09
FUDGE. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty.
In 1964, President Johnson stood in this Chamber and addressed a Congress that represented a nation where more than 25 percent of Americans lived in poverty. In his address, President Johnson launched an agenda that led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, Job Corps, Head Start, and nutrition assistance for those who struggle to put food on their table.
His war, and its resulting programs, helped move millions out of poverty. From 1967 to 2012, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent to 16 percent, largely because of the strong safety net programs initiated by President Johnson's agenda.
Yet here we are today, 50 years later, and too many Americans are still living on the outskirts of hope because the war on poverty has now become a war on the poor. In the last year alone, Congress has agreed to indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration in an effort to balance the budget, and the House passed a farm bill that cut SNAP by $40 billion. Sequestration hurts the very people who need help the most by greatly reducing critical funding to programs like WIC and Head Start.
Congress drastically cut one of the most powerful antipoverty programs, SNAP, better known as food stamps. That is absurd when, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP kept 4.9 million Americans out of poverty in 2012 alone, including 2.2 million children.
Congress has also chosen not to extend unemployment insurance. Even though our country continues to lift itself out of the recession, many Americans still need our support. Turning our back on the 1.4 million Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own is unconscionable.
In an interview yesterday, I was asked to respond to a quote regarding unemployment insurance by a Republican, and this is what he said. He said: We have to introduce the blessing of work to people who have never seen it.
And let me just say, to be clear, he could not possibly have been talking about unemployment insurance, because you have to have worked to even receive it. So he obviously doesn't know what unemployment insurance is.
And to my colleague, I say that the American people know that they should be blessed with work, but they need meaningful work with a living wage.
I will continue to be a voice for the poor and will always fight on behalf of the 46 million Americans trying to survive in households with inadequate incomes. Americans need us to open the gates of opportunity so they can eat properly, get a quality education, and find good-paying jobs.
So on this 50th anniversary, I am making it clear that the war on poverty might be over, but the fight for the poor is not. We must reinforce the plans of President Johnson that would ensure all Americans can support themselves and their families and have better chances to contribute to our economy and our society. This is the way we build upon the progress we have made over the past five decades, not by taking action to reverse it.
To paraphrase Dr. King, he says, we have an obligation to those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity.