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Public Statements

Poverty

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Speaker, as one of the founding members of the congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, I rise today in my ongoing effort to sound the alarm on poverty.

As you may know, the census released data showing that 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty in 2010. The data also revealed that the poverty rate for whites was 9.9 percent in 2010. Worse, the poverty rate for African Americans was 27.4 percent. For Latinos, the poverty rate was 26.6 percent. For Asian Pacific Americans, the poverty rate was 12.1 percent.

These statistics come on the somber anniversary of the 10 years of the war in Afghanistan, which was a blank check that should not have been written and that, of course, I could not support. In many ways, this war has significantly contributed to these staggering statistics, which we know are not just numbers but are human lives. We must create jobs. We have to create a way to maintain our social safety net.

So today I am here to ask my colleagues to join 47 Members of Congress and me in a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, asking them to protect vital programs that comprise our social safety net, including but not limited to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, as well as the programs that provide the economic security and opportunity to millions of Americans.

None of us envy the work of those members on this Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, as they will have to make tough choices that affect the lives of millions of Americans.

However, we should all recognize that for the last 25 years, when we have come to deficit reduction agreements, these agreements have, for the most part, protected low-income programs. We absolutely cannot balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable, those people facing or living in poverty. This is really a moral obligation that we cannot ignore.

These programs assist the over-46 million Americans living in poverty in 2010--men, women, children, young and old alike from all backgrounds--in obtaining or maintaining their access to basic, mind you, and I am just talking about basic human needs, including food, shelter and health care. These vital safety net programs both support and create consumers, which results in increased demand and job creation. This, of course, reduces our deficit by enabling people to participate in this economy.

And not only that, many of these programs do provide pathways out of poverty and opportunities for all. More and more Americans are struggling to find work and struggling to make ends meet. And until we create jobs, and we have a way, a pathway where people clearly can be provided these opportunities, we have a real moral obligation to protect these programs. Anything short of this is really un-American.

In times like these, it's unconscionable to consider cutting programs that help those most in need like our Nation's seniors and our Nation's children. Asking the Joint Select Committee for Deficit Reduction to protect these vital human programs is, though, not enough. We have to do more. The most effective anti-poverty program is an effective jobs program.

So while I ask my colleagues to join me on the letter to the Joint Select Committee, I am also here to ask Speaker Boehner to move the American Jobs Act as soon as possible to begin to create jobs and put Americans to work. Americans want to work and they need to work; and yet the House leadership is really focused, as an example, on the dismantling of environmental regulations. This is not a jobs program that puts Americans to work. It's a cynical, opportunistic move in order to attack the environment.

So we have to have as our priority efforts to create jobs that give Americans economic security and that grow our economy. Our economy will not recover quickly from this Great Recession and, of course, Great Depression in many communities of color, including the African American community and for those living in poverty, unless we really do provide a pathway out of poverty.

We need to target these programs in areas that need it the most. Many of these areas are communities of color, where the poverty rates are three times higher than the poverty rate for whites. The unemployment rates are also higher in communities of color: 16.7 percent of African Americans are unemployed, 11.3 percent of Latinos. And these are just the reported statistics. It's clear that we must address these disparities as we work to create jobs and opportunities for all.

So I am asking Members to join us in this deficit reduction letter and urge the Speaker and leadership of this House to move the American Jobs Act as the first step in jump-starting this economy and putting Americans back to work.

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