Over the past seven years, our economy has come back from the brink of catastrophe. The unemployment rate is now below 5.0 percent, 14 million new jobs have been created, and health insurance is now affordable for millions of Americans. By nearly every measure, our nation is doing better today than it was right before the Great Recession. But for more than 46 million Americans, poverty is a harsh daily reality, and the triumphs of our economic recovery have meant little. That’s why we must continue to wage the battle against hunger, homelessness, and joblessness in our communities.
Because we are deeply committed to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, we launched the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity in 2013. Since then, our Task Force has introduced and advocated for policies that provide pathways out of poverty for the most vulnerable, and we have worked to demonstrate our commitment to helping those struggling to make ends meet and get ahead. Last November, we sent Speaker Paul Ryan a letter inviting him to join us in enacting bipartisan policies that combat poverty in America, hoping to find common ground with someone who just last month launched his own Republican task force on poverty.
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While it is encouraging that Speaker Ryan discusses the need to address poverty in America, he must back up his rhetoric with action. Unfortunately, even since his election as Speaker, House leadership has continued to block even basic measures that could benefit millions of struggling Americans, such as raising the minimum wage, and they continue to tell families across the country: “You’re on your own.”
Today, the House Budget Committee is marking up the Majority’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2017 that continues to promote draconian budget policies that set back the cause of eliminating poverty. From cutting Medicaid to repealing the patient protections of the Affordable Care Act, from ending the Medicare guarantee to slashing funding for programs that encourage job growth, the Majority’s budget disinvests in our nation and shifts the burden of deficit reduction onto the shoulders of the poorest and most vulnerable.
Despite making these extreme spending cuts, the most conservative members of the House still believe the proposed budget does not go far enough. Speaker Ryan should not be tempted to move even further to the right in an effort to get the extreme wing of his party to agree to a budget. Any attempt to do so would result in even more dangerous policies that would harm those living in poverty. We strongly urge Speaker Ryan instead to work across the aisle to adopt a budget resolution that adheres to last year’s bipartisan budget agreement and invests in economic opportunity for all Americans.
The budget released by the President in February—which House leaders irresponsibly dismissed out of hand—laid out a number of proposals that would do just that, such as a mobility counseling program to help families move to safer neighborhoods with better schools and more job opportunities; a permanent program to ensure that children who rely on free or subsidized school lunches are fed and healthy; and an expansion of Pell Grants. We will continue to fight back against disinvestments that hurt working families and the very poor, and we will push for measures like the ones the President has proposed that create opportunities for families to escape poverty.
In addition, there are a number of areas where Democrats and Republicans could work together to achieve bipartisan progress. For example, Congress could adopt the Half in Ten Act (H.R. 258), which we co-sponsored, to establish a national strategy to halve poverty over the next decade. We also believe we can work together to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless adults, a policy Speaker Ryan advocated for when he chaired both the Budget and the Ways and Means committees.
In the weeks ahead, the Speaker has an opportunity to do more than make promises or launch a new task force—he can partner with the Democratic Whip Task Force to act. For the sake of the more than 46 million Americans struggling to get by, we will be ready to meet with the Speaker and his team to find common ground and help lift families out of poverty and into the middle class.