Are We in a War on Poverty or a War on the Poor?

I have a sticker in my office that says, “Fight poverty, not the Poor.” It is a slogan from a time before me. It was a time when the War on Poverty created and strengthened the safety net programs that the USA counted on to lift people out of poverty. When we funded those programs to help the poor, they worked. The War on Poverty reduced poverty by one-third. Safety net programs have benefited 70% of Americans at one point in their lives.

What are safety net programs? These are the programs that prevent individuals from failing into poverty. They are SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security and its many forms, Head Start programs and so many more. They are all meant to make sure families, working families, do not fall into poverty, and even try to escape poverty.

These programs for many years have been under attack. Every tax cut yields a continual attempt to cut these programs. For when a tax cut is given to another group, the money to fund these programs is less and these programs get slashed. Currently, our government seeks to slash funding to these programs again. The recent set of tax cuts have created a deficit, and the deficit must be filled somehow. So, let’s cut programs to the neediest.

Even though a minimal amount of money is spent on these programs, they are always the first under attack. We associate these programs with being poor, and government continually attacks the poor, blaming them for being poor. If they would only work, only not have more children, only take better care of themselves, they would not be poor. Unfortunately, that is not true. With stagnating minimum wages, limited health insurance, companies that refuse to offer full-time work, and predatory debt companies, there is very little one can do to lift oneself out of poverty. Add to this, the constant attack on these programs, and the USA continues to fall more and more into poverty.

Presiding Bishop Curry reaffirmed our call to support these programs in the declaration. “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis”. At General Convention, C041 reaffirms our call to desire to see these programs funded, and to oppose balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor.

- Laura Russell, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice


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