We Can Win the War on Povertyby Representative Janice D. Schakowsky
Posted on 2014-01-08
in the house of representatives
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Mr. Speaker, today marks the 50th Anniversary of
President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of the ``unconditional war on
poverty.'' The question we must now ask is whether we will continue to
fight to win the war on poverty or whether we will allow those who
would rather wage war on the poor themselves carry the day.
No one can argue that we have won the war on poverty. We have only to look at the nearly 50 million Americans who are living below the official poverty line--including more than 16 million children. But we can argue--and should do so vigorously--against those who call the war on poverty a failure and want to raze its very foundation.
The war on poverty was based on the idea that we should make sure every American has access to a good education, economic opportunity, sufficient food, housing and health care to climb out of poverty, reach their full potential, and contribute to the economic strength of our country.
Consider what life would be like without Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start and college assistance, food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Jobs Corps and expanded unemployment insurance benefits, and Section 8 housing. How would we protect Americans in economically trying times without them? Researchers tell us they make a difference. The EITC lifts six million Americans--half of them children--out of poverty, and SNAP does the same for almost five million people--also almost half of whom are children. In 2011, Medicaid kept almost 3 million Americans out of poverty. Unemployment insurance has kept 11 million people out of poverty since 2008. Without programs that help reduce poverty, almost twice as many Americans--nearly 30 percent--would live below the poverty line.
Are these programs perfect? No. Are there ways we can improve them? Of course, and many of us have been working to do so--to add new tools to lower prescription drug costs and eliminate fraud, to improve education by providing universal pre-K and making college more affordable, and to create jobs that will help the unemployed find work.
What we cannot do is follow the Republican Budget Proposal--which would give the average millionaire a $245,000 tax cut and pay for that by gutting SNAP funding, slashing education funding, cutting infrastructure investments, voucherizing Medicare, and cutting Medicaid by more than $800 billion over the next decade. Aside from my moral opposition to cutting those vital priorities, there is an economic reason: cutting them will hurt economic growth by preventing low-income Americans an opportunity to succeed and to contribute to our economic growth.
Instead, we should commit to strengthening the programs that have contributed to a reduction in poverty. Rather than cutting off unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans--and costing our economy more than 200,000 jobs in the process--we should extend the program so that those struggling to find work have the support they deserve in a time of need. Rather than weakening our education system, we should invest in universal pre-K and provide affordable student loans so that all students have a fair shot. Rather than cutting SNAP, we should restore the Recovery Act's boost to the program and ensure that it has adequate resources to prevent hunger in this country. Rather than cutting Section 8 and other housing assistance programs, we should make it our goal to ensure that everyone has a safe place to live. Rather than ending the guarantee of Medicare, we should ensure that it is strong and that our seniors have the health care they need and deserve. Rather than allowing workers to be paid less--in real terms--than at any time since the 1960s, we should commit to raising the minimum wage so that employment will mean escaping poverty.
Those investments, and others, can be made by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little more and by closing loopholes that allow American corporations to avoid their fair share in taxes. Those policies do not represent ``class warfare,'' they represent reality: if we are to end poverty, we need to invest in our people. In fact, I believe that what truly constitutes class warfare is the gutting of programs and policies that prevent poverty. If we make needed investments in preventing and reducing poverty, we will have an even stronger workforce, a more sound economy, and a brighter future for every American.