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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • The War on Poverty

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, there are so many acts of success of our government that many of us know it is the greatest Nation in the world. Through the years, we have had great leaders who have recognized that government can work on behalf of the American people. Today, we commemorate the 50th year of the war on poverty.

    I thank my good friend, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who will be holding a commemoration in recognition not only of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the President who declared war on poverty, but also the many workers and many Presidents since who, in many aspects, helped to build on the Nation's safety net.

    Today, however, we find ourselves in a dilemma, not recognizing and accepting success where it is. Poverty has fallen significantly over the last half century. Since the mid-1960s the average incomes among the poorest fifth of Americans have risen significantly. Infant mortality has dropped sharply, and severe child malnutrition has largely disappeared, but it still exists.

    In parts of my 18th Congressional District in Texas, we have very high mortality rates. It means that our job is not over. Nearly 50 million Americans, however, were poor in 2012, including 13 million children; 60 million people lived below half of the poverty line; and large racial disparities in the African American community were clear and documented. African Americans have a lower college degree graduate level than White Americans.

    So the safety net has to be something for all of us. I borrowed this from my good friend from California, just to show you a line of Americans possibly looking for work. We cannot point out and we cannot know at this point which one of these are near the edge of poverty or living in poverty simply because they cannot find work.

    So it is important to note that there are elements that many discard: the earned income tax credit; supplemental nutrition program; the huge job training and educational investment that President Johnson made on the war on poverty; Medicaid and Medicare, huge safety nets, not handouts but safety nets. Maybe the word ``welfare'' should be changed to something of a transitional living fund, for that is what it is for people to be able to live.

    There has been much maligning of the Affordable Care Act. Well, I am here to announce today that close to 9 million people have now been recipients and victors in getting health care; 3 million young people have been able to stay on their parents' insurance; and we have seen the slowest growth in health care in 50 years, safety net. As well, we have people who will no longer have lifetime caps or preexisting conditions preventing them from getting insurance or those who work as roofers or laborers who, because their work is difficult or dangerous, they cannot get insurance--safety net, part of the overall picture of the war on poverty.

    Now we find ourselves in the midst of a debate about a transitional outreach to individuals who are chronically unemployed. Some would argue we should not do it. We should not do it for individuals who have looked for work actively when there are three individuals per job. Some would say we need an offset. I consider it an emergency.

    But do you know, Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about the people in my district and across America that are tired of partisan politics. So why not a compromise? Why not a 3-month emergency extension and then a deliberation on the offset? Well, that probably will not be heard.

    So what is the offset? Why are we not in the midst of a combined discussion about what would be the most effective for all of the Members to be able to vote on? It is documented that the unemployed are in everyone's district. There are 1.3 million that are chronically unemployed, who are on the brink of poverty, who are not able to secure a safety net .

    Let me just make mention of the earned income tax credit that has been a vital lifeline for many around the Nation. Yet, that is looked upon as a potential cut. It is too expensive.

    These are lifeline safety nets that President Johnson started. Quite frankly, of all the wealthy nations, we have the lowest safety net and the [[Page H24]] highest poverty because we are not willing to accept the fact that sometimes an American needs help--even a veteran, even a soldier.

    Today, I honor the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, Mr. Speaker, and I ask us not to give up the fight because the American people are looking to us to win the war.


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