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  • War on Poverty

    by Representative Donald M. Payne Jr.

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, last week, we marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, which began to pave the way for many of the programs that provided basic human dignities that every American deserves.

    Fifty years ago, this Congress began to work together on a war against poverty. Unfortunately, today, some of my Republican colleagues have led a different kind of war. Instead of a war to eliminate poverty, it has grown into a shameful war against those living in poverty. These attacks are numerous, from slashing nutrition assistance to cutting unemployment insurance to attacking Social Security, Medicare, and attempting to dismantle health care.

    Fighting the war on poverty should not be a Democratic or a Republican idea. Not only are we all in this together, but poverty does not discriminate between political parties. According to the Brookings Institution, there are more than 21 million people living in poverty who live in Republican congressional districts. Equally, there are over 21 million people living in poverty in Democratic congressional districts. So the burden is on both parties, equally, to recommit ourselves to creating solutions.

    The gap between the rich and poor is wide, and it is growing at an alarming rate. Nowhere is this more true than in my home State of New Jersey. In my district alone, the number of households at the top 1 percent have doubled, while the poverty rate has grown to 28 percent.

    This is no way for the world's greatest country to lead. We can do better. And we must do better. We must return to the values that have, and always will, make this country great.

    We must make investments in education and job training, because how can a man find work if he does not have the skills to enter the workforce? We must make investments in nutrition assistance, because how can a child learn if he or she is too hungry to focus? We must make investments in health care, because how can a mother provide for her children if she can't afford to pay her medical bills? And most importantly, we must make investments in our fellow Americans, to provide them with the opportunities to fulfill their own potential.

    My colleagues focus a discouraging amount of energy on cutting the very safety net programs that have lifted millions out of poverty, both in our urban centers and our rural areas. But these programs work. Without our safety net programs, poverty numbers would be double.

    So although there is still much more to do, we have come a long way. Turning our backs on the millions of Americans living in poverty is simply not an option. Nothing is more important to the people I represent in New Jersey than having a decent job that pays a decent wage.

    My Republican colleagues are kidding themselves if they think these people are lazy or content. Believe me, no one is content living in poverty. No one. These people want to work. They want economic security. And more than anything, they want to create a better life, not only for themselves, but for their children, so that they can forever be free from the clutches of generational poverty.

    So, Mr. Speaker, we must remember that the war on poverty declared 50 years ago is an unconditional one. As President Lyndon Baines Johnson said: Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.

    Congress must renew this commitment by extending unemployment insurance, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, raising the minimum wage, investing in education, and, above all, creating jobs.

    Let's work together so that one day we can say that we have won the ultimate war of our time--the war on poverty.


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