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Public Statements

Addressing Our Nation's Poverty Problem

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BUTTERFIELD. Mr. Speaker, earlier today my colleagues spoke about poverty in

America. I regret that I could not join them at that time and now I wish to submit my own remarks. These are very tough times for rural districts such as the one I represent in the northeastern corner of North Carolina. It is the fourth poorest Congressional District in the U.S. 24 percent of the people I represent and 36 percent of the children live below the poverty line. Those are chilling statistics.

There are enormous racial disparities in poverty rates, and they are only getting larger. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25.8 percent--one in four--of all black Americans live in poverty compared to an overall national poverty rate of 14.3 percent. This compares to 25.3 percent poverty among Hispanics, 12.5 percent among Asians and 9.4 percent among whites.

The poverty problem in America is getting worse; not better. In 2006, the overall poverty rate was 12.6 percent, and in 2008, the overall poverty rate was 13.2 percent. The poverty rate now is the highest it has been since 1994.

Other indicators are equally alarming. More Americans than ever find themselves in need of food. In 2009, 14.7 percent of U.S. households had difficulty providing enough food for family members at some point during the year. This is the highest level observed since the U.S.D.A. started monitoring food security in 1995. From 2007 to 2009, the number of households using food pantries rose by 44 percent from 3.9 to 5.6 million households.

Similar trends of racial disparities exist amongst individuals lacking health insurance coverage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21 percent--one in five--black Americans are uninsured. This compares to 12 percent among whites and 17.2 percent among Asians. The number of uninsured children has risen to 7.5 million. In total, over 50.7 million people, or 16.7 percent of the country's population lack health insurance coverage--a dramatic increase from 46.3 million in 2008.

Poverty, hunger, and suffering are increasing--especially for people of color--during these difficult economic times. These are sad and terrible realities that a distressing number of my constituents face.

My district has many vivid and unfortunate illustrations of poverty: nearly one in 20 homes in some counties do not have a telephone or a kitchen, and many of my constituents are still living without indoor plumbing. As the national numbers show, eastern North Carolina is not unique in its poverty or suffering. People are poor, getting poorer, and are largely being ignored by policy makers all across the country.

Recent budget plans offered by the other side of the aisle would cut spending from most safety net programs, such as Medicare, Social Security, and food security programs, while increasing defense spending. If these misguided plans are passed into law, the impacts would be felt by all Americans and we would face a second Great Recession.

As we face an impending debt crisis and unsustainable levels of spending, we must balance our ongoing commitments to job creation and tax code reform while ensuring changes are not made at the expense of children, minorities, and seniors. We have a moral obligation to fight for the millions of Americans who are overlooked and suffering each and every day.

Mr. Speaker, we must work together toward developing comprehensive strategies to eradicate the growing poverty and hunger in the world's wealthiest nation.

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