I believe deeply that there is no place for poverty in the richest country in the world. All Americans should have access to food, shelter, clean water, safe neighborhoods, quality medical care, and education. As President, I will do everything in my power to help people to move from poverty to prosperity.
It has been more than 55 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union address. The official poverty rate in the United States then was 19%. Today, it stands at 12.3%. By some measures, it is closer to 14%. While that does represent a real improvement, it is still a far cry from where we need to be as a nation. Far too many people still lack the resources to provide for their basic needs, including food, water, shelter, electricity, and heating. Far too many children still go hungry, the only square meal they receive coming just five times a week at their public school lunch. This should be unacceptable to all of us — and as President I will work every day to finally bring an end to poverty in America.
Poverty is a complicated problem, both nationally and at the individual level, and as such, solving it will require a multi-faceted approach. The most fundamental answers lie in shoring up and expanding our vital social safety net, as studies repeatedly prove that the social safety net works.
Take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, more commonly known as “food stamps”), which helps some 42 million Americans meet their daily nutritional needs. Roughly half of all children in the United States are fed by SNAP at some point in their young lives. The cost of SNAP to the federal government in 2017 was roughly $68 billion. That certainly sounds like a lot of money — and it is — but it is less than 2% of the federal budget. More importantly, according to a study by the Economic Research Service (a branch of the US Department of Agriculture), every additional dollar spent on SNAP results in $1.79 in economic benefits, including in reduced healthcare costs, and boosts to retailers, food processors, farmers, and in turn everyone else in every local economy around the country. So for the $68 billion we spend as a country, our economy banks over $121 billion in return. That sounds like a great investment to me! And it makes cuts to the program even more harmful.
Subsidized housing also needs expanding, with long wait-lists for government-backed housing across the country. Better funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and its anti-homelessness programs will boost the entire economy and create more jobs. Likewise, government-backed healthcare, child care, employment, infrastructure, and educational programs (described in more detail elsewhere in my platform) will do the very same. I also propose that we establish a federal program to allow low to middle income Americans to start tax-free savings accounts to set aside money for a down-payment on a first home — much as we do for education savings accounts.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s injustice. When I was a Captain in the Navy a superior officer asked me how I felt about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred LGBT Americans from serving in the armed forces unless they kept their sexuality or gender identity a secret. I responded that I thought it was wrong and that the Supreme Court would probably overturn it very soon, likely within a couple months. My prediction proved incorrect and it took closer to a couple decades before it was finally overturned. Now the current Administration is again discriminating against brave and patriotic Americans who only want to serve their country with the decision to ban transgender servicemembers from our armed forces.
Beyond the military, it remains legal for employers to fire LGBT people simply because of their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression. LGBT people can still be legally denied housing and public accommodations (such as spending a night in a hotel) as well. Such discrimination hurts all of us, not only for moral reasons, but because it makes it harder for LGBT people to get ahead and thus acts as a drag on the whole economy. Likewise, everyday discrimination against people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, and others, such as those looking for a job or a house or apartment, remains too commonplace (although it is at least illegal) — and makes life more difficult for so many people. Tackling poverty requires a holistic approach recognizing the legacy of generations of systemic discrimination. Creating a fairer and more just society will improve life for all of us.
The greatest uncertainty we face as a society is the grave peril of climate change, which is already bringing increasingly extreme weather and natural disasters to the United States, and threatens food shortages, mass migrations, and other major societal disruptions. Exactly how the climate crisis will play out is unclear, but we know the first and worst effects of climate change are already being felt by poor and marginalized people, from Central America to Syria to the Pacific Islands, and in American communities as well — for proof, one need only look to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, or the spread of diseases like West Nile Virus, or increases in heat-related illnesses and death. If we do not make solving the climate crisis our biggest national — and international — priority, it is people already living on the edge who will suffer most. But in the end, if we continue to do nothing, climate change will eventually make all of us much poorer.