White House de­clares War on Poverty ‘largely over’

Re­port comes amid push for im­pos­ing work re­quire­ments for gov­ern­ment aid

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - WEATHER DESK -

The White House has de­clared the War on Poverty “largely over and a suc­cess,” ar­gu­ing there are few truly poor Amer­i­cans and that those who re­main on gov­ern­ment aid should be pushed to­ward private em­ploy­ment.

But poverty ex­perts say Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s team is un­der­stat­ing the scope of U.S. eco­nomic hard­ship and that their plans to re­ori­ent anti-poverty pro­grams would pri­mar­ily hurt the most vul­ner­a­ble.

The White House Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Ad­vis­ers re­leased a re­port Thurs­day say­ing al­most all Amer­i­cans have ac­cess to hous­ing and food, and that poverty has fallen by as much as 90 per­cent over the past five decades. Only 3 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are in poverty, the re­port said.

The re­port is the lat­est in a string of Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to ar­gue poverty is a shrink­ing prob­lem. U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley said last month that no more than 250,000 Amer­i­cans are in “ex­treme poverty,” con­demn­ing a United Na­tions re­port say­ing

18.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans suf­fered from ex­treme im­pov­er­ish­ment.

The dis­pute comes as the White House and Repub­li­cans in Congress pre­pare ma­jor changes in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to poverty pro­grams, push­ing plans that would re­quire re­cip­i­ents of gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance such as Med­i­caid or food stamps to prove they are ac­tively seek­ing em­ploy­ment.

Many poverty ex­perts dis­agree both with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­sess­ment of poverty and pre­scrip­tion for ad­dress­ing it.

“There is a heck of a lot more poverty out there in this coun­try than they are claim­ing,” said Mark Rank, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton in St. Louis who stud­ies poverty. “To say that we have ended the War on Poverty is to­tally ridicu­lous.”

Crit­ics say that work re­quire­ments im­pose ad­di­tional bar­ri­ers to re­ceiv­ing health care and food for those who need it, and that most peo­ple who can work are al­ready work­ing or look­ing for it. The prob­lem, crit­ics add, is the jobs don’t pay enough for them to get by.

The White House is re­ly­ing on a mea­sure of poverty that mea­sures con­sump­tion — how much money some­one spends, rather than their in­come — to reach its con­clu­sions. The 3 per­cent num­ber roughly cor­re­lates with con­sump­tion by those earn­ing un­der $24,000 for a fam­ily of four, said Robert Rec­tor of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive think tank.

“None of these sta­tis­tics is in­tended to deny the ways in which mil­lions of Amer­i­cans some­times strug­gle to make ends meets,” the re­port says. “[But] the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans are able to meet their ba­sic hu­man needs.”

The Cen­sus Bureau’s of­fi­cial “sup­ple­men­tal” poverty rate, which ac­counts for gov­ern­ment spend­ing, found that about 14 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are in poverty. Nearly 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­tween 25 and 60 will ex­pe­ri­ence at least one year be­low the poverty line in their life­time, Rank said.

The CEA re­port was is­sued about 90 days af­ter Trump signed an executive order in April di­rect­ing fed­eral agen­cies to re­port back with rec­om­men­da­tions on how to ex­pand work re­quire­ments for low-in­come Amer­i­cans who re­ceive gov­ern­ment aid.

Later that month, Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son pro­posed tripling rent for the poor­est house­holds that re­ceive fed­eral hous­ing sub­si­dies and mak­ing it eas­ier for lo­cal hous­ing au­thor­i­ties to im­pose work re­quire­ments, among other sweep­ing changes.

The fed­eral safety net, cre­ated when the War on Poverty be­gan in 1964 un­der Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son, has cut poverty nearly in half in the last 50 years, said Melissa Boteach, vice pres­i­dent of the Poverty to Pros­per­ity Pro­gram at the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for American Progress.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Repub­li­cans in Congress are now threat­en­ing to un­der­mine that suc­cess at the same time that we have an econ­omy that con­tin­ues to work for the wealthy few at the ex­pense of work­ing fam­i­lies,” Boteach said.

The House in June nar­rowly passed a farm bill that in­cludes new work re­quire­ments for the food stamp pro­gram used by 42 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. But the pro­vi­sions, which re­quire most adults to work part time or en­roll in job train­ing to re­ceive ben­e­fits, stand lit­tle chance of pass­ing the Se­nate in a com­pro­mise bill.

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