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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Roundtable on "Antipoverty Policies and Juvenile Justice Reform." Below is a transcript of his remarks:
“As we mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson declaring an unconditional ‘War on Poverty,’ and in the aftermath of a recession that hit the lowest income Americans very, very hard, we ought to take stock on how best to alleviate poverty in America in the twenty-first century.
“We did not lose the War on Poverty; we sounded retreat. What [Rep.] Barbara Lee, what the co-chairs are doing, what [Rep.] Chaka Fattah and Rep. Joyce Beatty are doing is trying to sound the trumpet of charge, the trumpet of change, the trumpet of positive impact. You are all in a position to help answer that question on how do we take experiences from organizations on the ground and translate them into policies that help more of our people avoid hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness and instead begin to rise up into the middle class.
“We lament the shrinkage of the middle class. The way you’re going to expand the middle class is to make sure that those who, as [Rep.] Barbara Lee points out all the time, that those who are not in the middle class, but who aspire to be, are given the power to do so. That will expand the middle class, and, yes, it will shrink non-middle class. I hesitate to say lower class; they are not lower class. They are simply a lot of people without the resources to do what we expect all Americans to be able to do. One of the challenges we find, which is the focus of today’s panel, is the relationship between poverty and juvenile incarceration. I was looking at Ms. Bernstein’s book, I understand she’s not here. I’m going to take the opportunity to read that book, Bobby. It seems like it’s a very pithy and timely exposition of what we’re doing to young people. America has a long struggle with racial disparities when it comes to our justice system. Bobby has been outspoken on that, and so have many of you in this room. Disparities that exacerbate poverty for many families living with a loved one in jail as a result of a non-violent offense. When a child grows up with a parent in jail, the result is lost income for the family, lost time with a parent, and a child at greater risk for not succeeding in school.
“If we fail our children as minors, we are setting them up to fail as adults. You know, I’m from Maryland. Frederick Douglass was from Maryland. Frederick Douglass was born a slave on the Eastern Shore of my state. He became one of the leaders and principle advisors to Abraham Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation, and I quote him all the time when he said, ‘It is easier to build strong children, than it is to repair broken men.’ It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men. Now that applies to women as well – to girls, as well as boys. Easier to build them up.
“[Spiro] Ted Agnew – now normally you wouldn’t have me quoting Ted Agnew – when I was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1966, he was elected Governor of our state as a progressive Governor, you may be shocked to hear. In his inaugural address he said, ‘The cost of failure far exceeds the price of progress.’ Why don’t you think about that, because there are too many people in the Congress of the United States who are preaching disinvestment in our people and in our country. The key is not only to attack poverty, but to prevent it. I take issue with Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal, which he laid down last week, to put more of our anti-poverty programs under the control of the states. I call it the ‘Ryan retreat’ not only in his budget, but in this program as well. From our pledge as a nation, ‘one nation under God, indivisible,’ there are too many people in America who are divided not coalescing, not creating a consensus. Indivisible: one nation – our children, all children, are American children.
“When the Affordable Care Act provided states with expanded Medicaid, some flat-out rejected it. Of the 24 states that have not yet acted to provide their residents with expanded Medicaid, there are 17.8 million Americans living in poverty. Medicaid would have made a difference in their lives. It still can, which is why we expanded it. Five states – Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina – account for 9.7 million of those that have rejected [Medicaid]. All of these people that could have been accessing affordable healthcare have been blocked from doing so. Giving those states decision power over funding for programs that prevent hunger and homelessness – programs that many of you help run – would be too risky when so many lives are at stake. Instead we need to invest in combating poverty, in particular among young people, by helping them stay in school, and get into pathways toward colleges or careers. And the first steps Congress ought to take is to help their parents and communities by working to raise the minimum wage. In the richest country on the face of the Earth, nobody ought to be working a full time job and living in poverty and unable to support themselves and help support their family. Nobody. Nobody.
“You say you understand the proposals to raise it to $10.10 in about two and a half years from now. Right today, as you sit here, if the minimum wage were the exact same as it was in 1968 the minimum wage would be $10.77, today. The proposal, while progress, is not success. Sadly, under the Republican Majority the Congress has failed to take these important steps. We haven’t even been able to consider it on the Floor. That is why I asked Barbara Lee to chair the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. If we’re going to be successful as a nation, it will be because all of us are successful. This Task Force will help draw attention to what Congress ought to be doing to address our poverty challenges in terms of the work you are doing to help us meet that challenge. Again I congratulate Barbara, but I congratulate each and every one of you for being aware of, learning more about, and being in the fight to make sure that we build strong children, not expending our money to repair broken men – and, as is in that book, Ms. Bernstein’s book points out – breaking children, not reparing children.“I salute you for the important work you’re doing to help more of our people emerge from poverty and Make It In America. That’s the agenda item I talk about all the time. Make It In America not only means manufacturing and expanding middle-class jobs, it means ‘making it,’ succeeding, having a sense of hope, having a sense of a future. That is what we need to give our children. That is what we need to give our people. And that’s what you’re doing. Thank you very much.”