Tag Archives: Poverty in America

Listen up, Congress: We need swift COVID-19 measures that put people first

 By Mary Babic

Cross-posted from Oxfam America’s “Politics of Poverty” series

The swift and devastating spread of the coronavirus in the US is dealing a staggering blow to our public health systems and our economy. It is also exposing how working families have been struggling for decades. As Americans grasp the enormous and long-term impact, they support policies that will deliver to those most affected and pave the road to an equitable recovery.

 The groundswell is crystal clear: A new Oxfam-Data for Progress national poll, conducted days ago, indicates overwhelming support (greater than 70 percent) for measures that directly help working people, including: paid sick leave for all workers, emergency funding for food supplies for those affected by the crisis, free testing for the virus, and moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs.

Even “very conservative” voters indicate majority support for emergency cash payments, waiving copays for coronavirus treatment, and increasing federal funding for Medicaid. On the flip side, support drops noticeably for policies that prop up large businesses.

Support extends across all divides

Stunningly, support for these measures cuts across ideological, racial, and age divides. Simply put, voters recognize that this is a moment of great peril. As the clock ticks and the numbers rise, the pandemic is quickly revealing how many working families were already struggling to stay afloat, living paycheck to paycheck.

Americans want to prevent them from falling into bankruptcy, homelessness, and hunger. Women indicate stronger support for actions to protect working people. This may reflect the fact that women face disproportionate hardships during crises. They are the primary caregivers of children, the ill or disabled, and the elderly, and being confined in the home increases care work and stress. In addition, women are currently on the front lines as nurses, doctors, personal aides, and cleaners. Finally, we know from long experience that domestic violence spikes in times like these.

Among the overall insights: 86 percent support free access to coronavirus testing, vaccination, and care for every American. Eighty-six percent support strengthening unemployment assistance (especially for workers who depend on tips, gig workers, domestic workers and independent contractors). Eighty-five percent support an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut offs. Just 54 percent support low–interest government loans for oil and gas companies.

Americans are saying it loud and clear: We cannot sit back and watch as the pandemic devastates the most vulnerable and flattens our economy. It’s time for proactive and effective government action. While Congress recently passed legislation that mandated paid sick leave, it excludes 80 percent of workers. We must do better.

An effective policy agenda

If our response is left to the market, COVID-19’s impacts will cascade through our economy, further deepening poverty, gender, racial and wealth disparities.

It is not time for half-measures and incremental tweaks to an economic system already fragile and rigged in favor of the powerful. Instead, we need decisive, audacious actions to prevent long-lasting and grave economic consequences for everyone—especially for those pushed out of progress for decades.

As Congress feverishly negotiates its third economic rescue package, Oxfam has developed a full economic policy agenda. Here are some highlights:

Protect working people being hit the hardest 

Payroll tax cuts are a farce: ineffective, regressive and potentially bankrupting Social Security. Instead, Congress should deliver:

  • Cash payments to all individuals.
  • Recurring boosts to federal anti-poverty programs.
  • Paid sick and family leave to all.
  • Increased unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Fiscal relief to states, counties, and cities that will bear the brunt of this crisis.
  • Investments in emergency shelters for women facing domestic violence at home.

 No blank checks to big business, but lifeline support to smaller companies and workers

An economic triage rescue plan would prioritize support to small businesses on the edge, not the country’s most powerful multinational companies flush with cash.

  • This is not a time for bailouts, or corporate tax cuts, for big business.
  • This is not a time to re-write tax policy to the benefit of the wealthy (which endangers resources we will need in the long term).

Moreover, we agree that assistance to corporations should be conditioned on forbidding recipients from: reducing payrolls; violating existing collective bargaining agreements; demanding concessions from workers; outsourcing; increasing workloads; and, companies must agree to a $15 minimum wage once the crisis has passed.

Any sectoral assistance should be explicitly time-limited and subject to certain conditions, including and especially prohibiting share buybacks; freezing executive bonuses; requiring board approval for political lobbying expenditures; and country-by-country tax reporting.

No free lunch to certain sectors

Any assistance to corporations should not exacerbate existing inequalities, worsen public health outcomes, or impede the necessary global transition to a zero-carbon economy. In particular, sector-specific benefits for oil and gas producers, who’ve long-received subsidies and tax breaks, should not be considered at this time.

Affordable testing, treatment, and vaccination will be essential for economic recovery. Any assistance or incentives for the pharmaceutical sector must ensure that breakthroughs in treatment and vaccines become a global public good, accessible and affordable to everyone.

Mary Babic is the Senior Communications Officer for the US Regional Office at Oxfam America.

 

Taking Food Out of Poor Kids’ Mouths

By Randy Rosenthal

The US Department of Agriculture has proposed restricting access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as “food stamps”) on the ostensible grounds that it is necessary to close a loophole in the program. But the real reason, it appears, is an ideological commitment to lowering taxes on the rich and cutting government spending on the poor. 

Embed from Getty Images

Back in 1964, President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty, which aimed to eradicate the conditions of poverty by providing American citizens with access to food, education, and a secure retirement. Today, the Trump Administration is leading a War against the Poor, which aims to do the opposite. The most recent and blatant act in this war is the US Department of Agriculture’s proposal to restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

On July 23, the USDA released a statement about the proposal, which aims to save $2.5 billion by taking 3 million people off of food stamps. The statement doesn’t mention it, but 500,000 of these people are children who will automatically lose access to free school lunches.

The ostensible rationale behind the proposal is that there is “a loophole” that needs to be closed: low income participants receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible for food stamps. Because of this policy, which is designed to help transition families toward economic independence, the USDA claims that people are receiving assistance when they clearly don’t need it. To support this claim, they point to a Minnesota man who enrolled in the program, even though he was a millionaire. Continue reading

Poverty Is Both a Political and a Moral Choice

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty reports that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion.” Isn’t it time to wake up, discard both dreams and illusions, and act on the basis of the truth?

AThe U.S. views itself as the exceptional nation, the beacon of freedom and justice for the world. In the popular imagination, it is the land of plenty where everyone can thrive, the land of opportunity where anybody who works hard enough can realize the dreams of their heart. But is this really so or just a comforting illusion?

For two weeks this past autumn, Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, sought to find out, traveling over the U.S. to assess the state of extreme poverty in this country and its impact on human rights. His travels brought him to California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico. His report, published in mid-December by the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, pulls the curtains on the illusions this country cherishes about itself and reveals the startling truth about where we stand and where we are headed. Although the extent of poverty and income inequality in the U.S. has been documented several times in the past, it is still telling that the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty would undertake such an investigation in America, of all places, and expose the U.S. as an outlier among the economically advanced countries.
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A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

US Projects

23. Detroit: Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit (registered 2014) operating in one of the most neglected cities in the US, where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 14.3%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system and buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 150 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 19 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.
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Many Americans Don’t Get Enough Food

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the United States proclaims itself the land of limitless opportunity, the shining “nation on a hill” where dreams of prosperity and success become true, the reality on the ground often belies this pastel rhetoric. The reason for this failure is not lack of resources but policies determined by voodoo economics and rabid cruelty. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. Too many workers are earning poverty-level wages. Too many programs that provide critical assistance to the neediest of our fellow citizens are being cut. Yet the big shots in Congress, who lecture the poor about the need to work hard, still subscribe to the belief that cutting taxes for the rich and granting subsidies to big business will result in rising incomes for everyone else.

One of the most effective measures in assessing a country’s real economic health is the extent of food insecurity among its population. Figures from reliable sources indicate that a shocking number of Americans perpetually live in the shadows of hunger. Over 46 million Americans–roughly 1 in 7 people–are dependent on SNAP, the food stamps program, which has been in the crossfires of a radically regressive Congress. If funding for the program is cut still further, the number of SNAP recipients will go down while the number of people unable to obtain sufficient food will rise.
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Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 6 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the last of a six-part series giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the board’s annual projects meeting on May 4th. The first five parts of this series described the nineteen international projects approved by the board. This final post describes the four U.S. projects that were approved. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, along with Jessie Benjamin, David Liu, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who all helped prepare the material used in this series.

 20. Detroit: Building Oases in a Food Desert      NEW

Detroit is known as a “food desert” where residents have to travel twice as far to the nearest grocery store than the closest fast food or convenience store. Keep Growing Detroit aims to promote food sovereignty in the venerable “motor city,” so that more fresh fruits and vegetables will be available to Detroiters, grown by residents themselves within city limits. The organization also aspires to foster healthy relationships between people and the food they eat, to increase knowledge of food and farming, to cultivate community connections, and to nurture leadership skills among Detroiters.

BGR will be entering upon a first-time partnership with Keep Growing Detroit, supporting a project that seeks to expand options for local food production by making available resources and education opportunities. The two objectives of the project are: (1) to support 1500 family, community, school and market gardens by distributing garden resources, and (2) to host 25 classes reaching 500 residents and provide information about basic gardening, farm and business planning, hoophouse construction, cooking and food preservation. BGR funding will go toward the purchase of seeds, plants, a greenhouse, and cooking and teaching supplies.
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Feeding Youth Starved for Meaning: The Reciprocity Foundation Is Fulfilling Its Goals

Last year, BGR began a partnership with NYC’s Reciprocity Foundation, which trains and counsels homeless youth. The partnership aims to enable Reciprocity to expand its vegetarian meals program. Their half-year interim report indicates this partnership is bearing fruit.

Reciprocity staff and students
Co-director Adam Bucko is lying down at center

For the past eight years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly in New York City to provide care for homeless youth in the age range of 13-26 years. The Foundation aims to nurture the transformation of homeless, impoverished youngsters—most living in homeless shelters—into educated, employed young persons able to take on leadership roles in society. Reciprocity offers a unique holistic synthesis of contemplative, psychological, and practical modes of training. It provides counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats, career coaching, college admission support, and digital media training.
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The Price of Dignity

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

When it comes to eliminating poverty, private charity cannot replace public policy, and public policy must be guided by a moral perspective. We have the resources to overcome poverty. The big question, as always, is whether we have the will to do so.

Fifty years ago this month, in his first State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson saw this as a national priority and he urged Congress and the American people to join him in the endeavor “to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.” It was, he said, a war we “can afford to win,” one that we could “not afford to lose.”  

Johnson understood that to improve the condition of the destitute, we had to attack the root causes of poverty, and not merely its symptoms. In the years that followed, his administration launched a volley of programs, many of which are still with us today, to offer the poor better education, better healthcare, better jobs, and better homes. They included Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, better funding for K-12 education, loans to low-income college students, housing assistance for low-income families, and legal aid for the poor. Under Johnson, the food stamp pilot project became a permanent program that would eventually eliminate severe malnutrition, which, in the early 1960s, made parts of the U.S. seem as if they were in a Third World country.
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Ending Poverty in America

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Americans routinely hail their country as the greatest nation on earth, a land of boundless opportunity providing everyone the chance to fulfill their dreams of freedom, prosperity, and success. Reality, however, does not quite live up to this rhetoric. Over the past three decades, U.S. poverty rates have actually increased and by 2010 over 46 million people in this country, approximately 1 person in 7, could be considered poor. In flat contradiction to its self-image, the U.S. now ranks lowest among industrialized nations on many critical indicators of economic and social well-being.

According to a briefing from the Institute of Policy Studies, among all economically advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of relative poverty and child poverty. It also has one of the largest margins of income inequality and the smallest number of social services provided to its citizens. Contrary to the creed of neoliberal economic theory, those countries in which the government devotes more funds to social services are consistently more successful in reducing poverty and inequality than those that adopt a “Wild West” version of corporate capitalism.

Politicians have treated poverty as if it were a taboo topic not to be spoken about in polite company. While long hours in Congress are devoted to debating how to avoid a fiscal cliff, barely a glance is given to those who have fallen off the poverty cliff and face a daily struggle just to survive. Talk about reducing the economic burden on the middle class and protecting small businesses is considered respectable, but acknowledging the existence of an underclass can raise shrieks about “class warfare,” as if it were the poor that are attacking the rich.
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