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 Special Edition: What We Hope to See About Poverty in the President’s State of the Union

On January 24th, President Obama will give his 3rd State of the Union address. The usual pomp and circumstance will occur. Members of Congress who share the President’s political party will rise often and clap. Members from the other party will remain seated and frown. Amidst all of the ceremonial flourishes, there are particular topics relating to low-and moderate-income families that the JCPA will be listening for closely.

We hope President Obama uses this signature opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issue of poverty in America. There is power in naming particular challenges and calling poverty, poverty. At a time when private industry is being promoted as the end-all cure for unemployment and raising people out of poverty, we hope President Obama will emphasize the important role the federal government has to play in this endeavor as well. At a time when income inequality has become a popular topic of discussion, we would like to see the President prioritize mobility in to the middle class and discuss a clear plan on how, as a country, we are going to raise more families out of poverty.

Our President and government need to fully recognize those on the bottom rungs of the income scale who are struggling the most. The ladder of opportunity is broken for this community and it is up to our national leaders to make concrete proposals on how we are going to repair this problem.

The JCPA hopes President Obama begins this discuss by mentioning the following issues in his State of the Union address:

Feeding the Hungry Through Nutrition Assistance:

The past few months have seen an onslaught of unwarranted attacks on food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Yet statistics tell a different story about SNAP. There is record enrollment in SNAP because the program is responding by design to the historic current needs. One in six American households is struggling with hunger and 49.2 million people in the U.S. are living in poverty. For these individuals, the SNAP program is a lifeline to help get them through difficult circumstances. According to the most recent census data, 3.9 million Americans were kept out of poverty because of food stamps. SNAP is the cornerstone of the federal food assistance program and provides crucial support to needy households.

We hope that instead of shying away from being labeled the “Food Stamp President,” President Obama will take this as an opportunity to elevate those who are in need and boldly support the programs that assist hungry Americans.

Create Sustainable Jobs:

We are certain that President Obama will discuss job creation in the State of the Union. The JCPA has supported a number of the President’s job creation proposals in the past, but these ideas have encountered road blocks once legislation was introduced in Congress. We would like to see creative ideas translated into meaningful legislation that could make a real difference in our communities.

With an unemployment rate still at 8.5%, it is becoming increasingly clear that job recovery cannot take place in the private sector alone; the federal government must have some role in the creation of sustainable jobs. We hope President Obama will make comprehensive job creation one of his top priorities in 2012. Serious job proposals should direct job creation programs to low-income communities and vulnerable population groups in order to reach every sector of the population that is suffering from unemployment, especially in the most distressed communities. In addition, any new jobs created through federal legislation must generate sustainable employment that pays fair wages and provides opportunities for advancement. We hope the President’s State of the Union employs creative, outside-the-box thinking on job creation and openly discusses those communities that have been struggling the most and often times find themselves left out from traditional job creation proposals.

While we are regrowing our economy, we expect the President to continue his strong support for a clean one-year extension of unemployment insurance benefits to provide critical assistance to jobless workers.


Meaningful Deficit Reduction:

Most of what Congress will be dealing with in 2012 is deficit reduction and avoiding the sequester (across-the-board cuts that will occur January 2013 if $1.2 trillion in cuts are not made to the federal budget). Serious consideration should be paid to these negotiations and we would like to see President Obama display increased resolve in protecting low-income programs from further cuts. The poor in America have already suffered greatly during the recession and a number of programs that provide assistance to them have seen budget cuts during the past year. The most vulnerable in our country should not be asked to disproportionately shoulder the burden of cuts to the federal budget.

Our country has been dealing with the aftershocks of a downturned economy for more than four years. Citizens are growing frustrated with partisan infighting and the lack of problem-solving legislation being produced by Congress. The JCPA hopes President Obama will use the platform of the State of the Union as an opportunity to speak honestly with Congress and the American public about the needs of the poor and the federal government’s role in creating positive changes in the lives of low- and moderate-income Americans.

For more information on these issues please contact Elyssa Koidin.


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