Hoyer: We Ought to Continue the War on Poverty to Reduce Income Inequality

For Immediate Release:

January 8, 2014

Contact:

Stephanie Young, 202-225-3130

WASHINGTON, DC - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor this evening recognizing the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union address declaring a “War on Poverty.”  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery and a link to the video:

Click here to watch the video.

“I thank the Gentlewoman from California, Barbara Lee for leading this special order and for chairing the House Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity.

“Mr. Speaker, when President Johnson stood in this chamber on January 8, 1964 and declared an 'unconditional war on poverty in America,' he launched a legislative agenda that led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and nutrition assistance for those at risk of going hungry, particularly children.

“Today, thanks to the War on Poverty, infant mortality has plummeted, childhood malnutrition has fallen significantly, and college graduation rates have risen.  The poverty rate for senior citizens in 1959 was 35%. By 2012, this rate had fallen to just 9%, thanks to New Deal and Great Society programs.  Food stamps continue to keep as many as 4 million Americans out of poverty – which is why it is so critical to provide robust SNAP funding in the Farm Bill.

“Fifty years after President Johnson launched the War on Poverty, as we take stock of the progress we have made, we must be candid in assessing the difficult challenges that remain before us.  Following the great recession, and with long-term unemployment higher than it was a few years ago, millions of our fellow Americans are today teetering on the edge of poverty, while others still have yet to escape its grasp.  In 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 50 million people in America were poor, including 13 million children.

“States and local governments, under pressure from reductions in federal funding for domestic programs, are struggling to maintain the safety net that for a generation has placed a floor under those who have lost a job, fallen ill, or were born into dire circumstances.  As middle-class families have strained under the difficult conditions of the recession and its consequences, the lowest-income Americans have been forced to endure a severe lack of opportunities to enter the middle class.

“In his State of the Union address in 1964, President Johnson said: ‘Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty but the symptom.  The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.’

“Central to our ability to sustain the American dream is our responsibility to one another to make upward mobility possible. 

“Right now, 1.4 million Americans are worrying about meeting their basic needs since emergency unemployment insurance was cut off.  Every week that goes by without turning this lifeline back on will see another 72,000 Americans, on average, lose their emergency income.  Congress has the ability to restore those benefits right away, and Democrats – proud of our history leading the War on Poverty – will continue to push for their extension.

“And Democrats will keep fighting for a strong, secure, and growing middle class – by working to raise the minimum wage and making sure the Affordable Care Act expands access to quality health care as intended.  We must also create a pathway to citizenship and opportunity for undocumented workers who are living in the shadows in poverty as part of comprehensive immigration reform.  And we must be vigorous in enforcing our laws that prevent discrimination in housing, hiring, and access to education.

“If we are to make serious progress in the War on Poverty in the years to come, it will have to be as a result of both parties working together to prioritize economic opportunity and upward mobility.  Not by telling the most vulnerable Americans that they’ll have to fend for themselves – that their fellow citizens will not lend a helping hand during their time of need.

“I am glad President Obama has chosen to make reducing economic inequality a focus in 2014. This ought to be our sacred charge: to carry on the work President Johnson began, without pause, until hunger, homelessness, and economic insecurity in any form no longer endanger the promise of our nation.”

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