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  • War on Poverty

    by Representative James E. Clyburn

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    CLYBURN. Mr. Speaker, when President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty in his 1964 State of the Union address, the poverty rate in this, the richest country on Earth, was 19 percent. His Great Society legislation, a continuation of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and President Harry Truman's Fair Deal, launch a plethora of programs and priorities to serve and protect the neediest and the most vulnerable among us.

    At the time, President Johnson cautioned that the war on poverty would be long and difficult. But by 1973, only 9 years later, the poverty rate had been brought down to 11 percent. We were definitely winning the war on poverty. Unfortunately, many politicians found success, creating myths about the poor and inventing phantoms like the so-called ``welfare queen.'' They popularized a narrative that the war on poverty was not worth fighting, but nothing could be further from the truth.

    For example, Medicare and Medicaid, both war on poverty initiatives, have made a tremendous difference in the health and security of older Americans and all Americans of modest means. These two very successful anti-poverty programs, when they were initiated, the poverty rate among seniors was over 30 percent. Today, the poverty rate among seniors is under 10 percent. By what measure can one conclude that these two programs are failures? In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, President Johnson signed into law the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This law launched VISTA-- Volunteers in Service to America--Head Start, TRIO, and a slew of other very successful community-action programs. TRIO did not fail. In fact, many Members of this body on both sides of the aisle would not be here today were it not for Upward Bound, Talent Search, and the Special Students Concerns programs.

    Lest we forget, about 6 months after President Johnson launched the war on poverty, Congress responded to his call and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a year later the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two vital laws created educational and employment opportunities for women and minorities that allowed many of us to fulfill our dreams and aspirations. In the communities many of us grew up in, many Americans were able to vote for the first time in their lives. There is no better way to wage a war on poverty than their freedom to choose and unfettered access to the franchise.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 85th birthday we celebrate today, once famously said: Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.

    The record is pretty clear that, in recent years, the number one cause of bankruptcies to American families has been health care expenses. That is why I often call the Affordable Care Act, the civil rights act of the 21st century.

    This groundbreaking new law is already having a positive difference. It is giving all American families the security of quality, affordable health care. We still have much work to do. Persistent poverty continues to be a serious challenge, and we in the Congressional Black Caucus are serious about meeting that challenge. Our 10-20-30 initiative targets communities of need for effective economic development through infrastructure investments that create jobs and lay foundations for long-term economic growth. The 10-20-30 approach, which this body authorized in the rural development section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, proved highly successful.

    This effective poverty-fighter should be expanded to other sections of the budget as we continue the long, and often torturous, search of a more perfect Union.


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