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Barbara Lee: Congress should focus on eliminating poverty

Barbara Lee: Congress should focus on eliminating poverty
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Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Democrats accuse tech companies of deceitful tactics in campaign against Calif. ballot measure Congress fiddles while the US burns, floods, and ails MORE (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution Thursday urging Congress to focus on ending poverty, which has been amplified by the pandemic. 

Lee, who chairs House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTop Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE’s (D-Md.) Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, said Congress has “the moral responsibility to end adult and child poverty in the United States.”

The resolution lists dozens of instances in which the U.S. lacks safety nets for low-income people, such as the lack of national minimum paid sick time standard. As of now, paid sick leave is determined by individual employers and state laws.  

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“COVID is a pandemic on top of a poverty pandemic with disastrous effects on our most vulnerable communities,” Lee said in a statement. “The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, yet our poverty rates continue to eclipse most industrialized nations.”

According to the resolution, 38.1 million people including 11.9 million children in the U.S. were living in poverty based on the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in 2018 while 10 percent of American households own 70 percent of the country’s total wealth. The bottom 50 percent of Americans saw no increase in their average wealth over the past 30 years.

Lee, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said budgets are “moral documents” that reflect the priorities of lawmakers. The resolution, which is a non-binding piece of legislation, outlines several ambitious progressive goals. 

The Green New Deal, another progressive non-binding piece of legislation that was introduced last year, has yet to gain traction. 

“If our nation can afford to spend trillions of dollars on wars around the globe, we can invest a fraction of that amount in families to ensure no one struggles to keep food on the table in America,” Lee said. “Budgets are moral documents – and for years, our budgets have failed to help those who need it the most. 

The California congresswoman is proposing cutting military spending while “enforcing a more equitable tax system” that would reinvest tax dollars into “bolstering social safety net programs, comprehensive health care, supporting livable wages, and safeguarding the futures of our children.”

“It is past time for Congress to live up to our moral imperative to end poverty. Anti-poverty programs are a matter of survival for countless Americans.”