Must Read: Trump's war on the poor

By:  Sue Minter; VT Digger

The trump administration has a uniquely cruel solution for our many neighbors who struggle with poverty: Just declare that they are not poor and strip them of essential services.

This is the likely result of a proposal now under consideration to lower the federal poverty line — the income threshold that determines what it means to be “poor” in America. The artificial maneuver to move millions of people out of poverty will terminate critical assistance for food, heat, housing and child care, to name a few, for many of our most vulnerable community members.

As the executive director of Capstone Community Action, an organization that provides essential services to build ladders out of poverty, I see daily the low-income Vermonters who will be directly impacted by this change. So do you. You may not know it, but the person serving your meal or working the checkout line at your grocery store is homeless. Or the person operating the chairlift or cutting your hair is struggling to put food on their table, and their kids depend on free healthy meals at school. When these people are not helping you, Capstone is helping them.

When the federal poverty line was established during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s it was tied to “livable wage” at that time and is adjusted annually for inflation. In 2018, the federal poverty line for a family of four was $25,100. This is supposed to account for what it costs to live. The problem is that the cost of living for essentials like food, housing, heat and child care has increased exponentially since the 1960s, but the definition of living in poverty does not take these costs into account. This problem will be exacerbated by the proposal now under review.

Trump wants to make poor people simply vanish. The reality is that the ranks of the poor are growing: As of 2016, 135,000 Vermonters – that’s 1 in 9 of our neighbors — live below the federal poverty line in extreme poverty. For children, the situation is far more dire. Statewide, 1 out of 7 children under age 5 live in extreme poverty, and in central Vermont, the region Capstone Community Action serves, it’s 1 in 5 kids who live in extreme poverty.

Poverty is not permanent. Critical services such as early education, food, job training and housing assistance have a proven track record of success. A child in Head Start can break generational cycles of poverty. At Capstone, and at fellow community action agencies across Vermont and the U.S., disadvantaged people are gaining self-sufficiency, courage and a path to a future beyond poverty and into prosperity.

The greatest measure of a society is the way it treats the most vulnerable. We can end poverty.

We must stop this insidious proposal by the Trump administration to “shrink” poverty and abandon those in need. We don’t end poverty by pretending it doesn’t exist. We end poverty by investing in all children and strengthening programs to help families gain economic security and mobility.

We end poverty by providing opportunity and hope.

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