Beyond THE FUTURE: Blog Action Day: Candidates’ Views on Poverty
On a Blog Action Day scheduled for the date of the final presidential debate in such a critical election year, I’ve opted to focus on the plans for tackling poverty presented by the current presidential candidates. While working with global leaders to address the issues that continue to fuel world poverty ought to be at the top of any moral U.S. president’s agenda, growing levels of domestic poverty also deserve the next president’s attention.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau:
• More than 37 million Americans live in poverty.
According to the National Women’s Law Center:
• Women are 41% more likely to live in poverty than men.
• More than 14 million women (about 1 in 8) live in poverty.
• Most impoverished families in the U.S. are headed by women.
In addition to feeding and clothing their children, impoverished women also face their own special health care crisis. According to a recent opinion piece on The Huffington Post entitled “The Missing Debate on Poverty,” columnist Linda Basch notes that “one-third of all low-income women, and four out of ten single mothers, receive health care coverage from Medicaid.”
Basch goes on to make the point that “If, as Senator McCain has suggested in previous speeches, he [were to freeze] all public spending except on the military, thousands of families would be left with no option but catastrophic debt” when faced with a medical emergency not covered by Medicaid.
While Basch laments the lack of discourse regarding poverty in the recent debates, I’m at least heartened by the extensive coverage given this issue on the Obama website. Within a section devoted to poverty, the Obama campaign spells out the Democratic candidates’ detailed plan for tackling poverty, a plan that includes:
• Investing $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Americans succeed in the workforce.
• Creating a program to directly engage disadvantaged youth in energy efficiency opportunities to strengthen their communities and provide them with skills in this high-growth career field.
• Ensuring that low-income Americans have transportation access to jobs by doubling funding for the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program.
• Ensuring that ex-offenders have access to job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling, and employment opportunities.
• Increasing the number of working parents eligible for Earned Income Tax Credit benefits.
• Increasing the benefits available to parents who support their children through child support payments.
• Increasing benefits for families with three or more children.
• Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011.
• Providing all low- and middle-income workers a $500 Making Work Pay tax credit to offset the payroll tax those workers pay in every paycheck.
• Eliminating taxes for seniors making under $50,000 per year.
• Signing into law a Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, and ensure that payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies.
• Expanding the highly successful Nurse-Family Partnership (which provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families) to all 570,000 low-income, first-time mothers each year.
• Guaranteeing workers seven paid sick days per year.
• Supporting efforts to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods.
• Engaging with urban leaders to increase resources to the highest-need Americans.
• Expanding the highly successful Promise Neighborhoods program in urban areas with high levels of poverty and crime.
• Investing in rural small businesses.
• Improving rural schools.
• Attracting more doctors to rural areas.
• Revitalizing rural America through new investments in renewable energy production.
The McCain site does not feature a section devoted to poverty, and Senator McCain has made few comments on this issue. He has been quoted as saying:
• “Welfare and anti-poverty assistance is a shared responsibility among federal, state and local government; the private sector; community and faith-based organizations.”
• “Welfare policy must provide a strong safety net, while promoting work, responsibility, self-sufficiency and dignity.”
In an April 2008 statement, McCain promised simply to “advance the interests of the American people, especially those 12 million children” who currently live in poverty in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama presented a speech in July of last year that bypassed the number-crunching necessities of coping with domestic poverty. Instead, he got to the heart of the matter and made it clear why the next moral president has no choice but to address poverty here at home:
“We can’t allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country. We can’t afford to lose a generation of tomorrow’s doctors and scientists and teachers to poverty. We can make excuses for it or we can fight about it or we can ignore poverty altogether, but as long as it’s here [poverty] will always be a betrayal of the ideals we hold as Americans.”
Any U.S. president who has ignored or insists on ignoring the crippling issue of poverty in our country represents a betrayal not only of the ideals we hold, but of the contract between an elected official and that official’s constituents to champion causes that truly matter. Poverty in America demands our attention; a collective, passionate call to action; and real responses by our next president. Poverty in America betrays much more than our ideals—and it deserves much more than a few empty promises.