September 4, 2008
Which Party Is Better on American Poverty?
I'd like to take a brief break from politics to talk about an actual issue of concern to many religious voters.
Both Republicans and Democrats this year devote extensive portions of their platforms toward helping to alleviate poverty in Africa. The new emphasis in the Republican Platform reflects both George W. Bush's significant work in this area and the seismic shift in the evangelical movement, emphasizing African poverty like never before. This has prompted conservative evangelicals to argue that they care just as much about poverty as liberals, who have been arguing aggressively that the Religious Right agenda misses the voluminous teachings by Jesus about the poor.
But when it comes to American poverty, there are still rather striking differences in the two parties' level of interest, at least judging from the platforms.
For one thing, the Democratic platform has a section called "poverty" and the Republicans doesn't.
To be fair, the Republican Party position has always been that a growing economy, individual initiative and a thriving charitable sector were the most important cures to poverty. So they would argue that the platform planks on tax cuts and energy production would count as anti-poverty measures. Still, it must be said that the Democratic Party platform committee appears to have spent a great deal more time thinking through the implications of policies specifically for the poor. Certainly they've spilled a lot more ink on the subject, devoting about four times as many words to the topic.
For now, I offer no assessment of the quality of their proposals, and note that the volume of words doesn't equate to effectiveness. But I wanted to merely lay out what they had to say. If religious voters are serious about poverty becoming part of the Christian agenda, they need to look at how the parties approach the topic.
Here are excerpts from the two party's platforms related to poverty:
The Republican Party Platform
GOOD PARENTING -- "Republicans recognize the importance of having in the home a father and a mother who are married. The two-parent family still provides the best environment of stability, discipline, responsibility, and character. Children in homes without fathers are more likely to commit a crime, drop out of school, become violent, become teen parents, use illegal drugs, become mired in poverty, or have emotional or behavioral problems. We support the courageous efforts of single-parent families to provide a stable home for their children."
JOB TRAINING -- "Government can play an important role in addressing economic dislocations by modernizing its re-training and unemployment assistance programs."
FAITH-BASED PROGRAMS - - "Bureaucracy is no longer a credible approach to helping those in need. This is especially true in light of alternatives such as faith-based organizations, which tend to have a greater degree of success than others in dealing with problems such as substance abuse and domestic violence. To accomplish their missions, those groups must be able to rely upon people who share their faith; their hiring must not be subjected to government regulation and mandates."
HEALTH CARE FOR THE POOR - "Our Medicaid obligations will consume $5 trillion over the next ten years. Medicaid now accounts for 20-25 percent of state budgets and threatens to overwhelm state governments for the indefinite future. We can do better
while spending less. A first step is to give Medicaid recipients more health care options. Several states have allowed beneficiaries to buy regular health insurance with their Medicaid dollars. This removes the Medicaid "stamp" from people's foreheads, provides beneficiaries with better access to doctors, and saves taxpayers' money. We must ensure that taxpayer money is focused on caring for U.S. citizens and other individuals in our country legally.
The Democratic Party Platform
POVERTY IN GENERAL -
"When Bobby Kennedy saw the shacks and poverty along the Mississippi Delta, he asked, "How can a country like this allow it?" Forty years later, we're still asking that question. The most American answer we can give is: "We won't allow it." One in eight Americans lives in poverty today all across our country, in our cities, in our suburbs, and in our rural communities.
"Most of these people work but still can't pay the bills. Nearly thirteen million of the poor are children. We can't allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country. It's not who we are. Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college. We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones. To help workers share in our country's productivity, we'll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. The majority of adults in poverty are women, and to combat poverty we must work for fair pay, support for mothers, and policies that promote responsible fatherhood. We'll start letting our unions do what they do best again--organize and lift up our workers.
"We'll make sure that every American has affordable health care that stays with them no matter what happens. We will assist American Indian communities, since 10 of the 20 poorest counties in the United States are on Indian lands. We'll bring businesses back to our inner-cities, increase the supply of affordable housing, and establish "promise neighborhoods" that provide comprehensive services in areas of concentrated poverty. These will be based on proven models, such as the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, which seeks to engage all residents with tangible goals such as attendance at parenting schools, retention of meaningful employment, college for every participating student, and strong physical and mental health outcomes for children.
"The Democratic Party believes that the fight against poverty must be national priority. Eradicating poverty will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and we believe that the White House must offer leadership and resources to advance this agenda."
FINANCIAL SUPPORT -- "We recognize that women are the majority of adults who make the minimum wage, and are particularly hard-hit by recession and poverty; we will protect Social Security, increase the minimum wage, and expand programs to combat poverty and improve education so that parents and children can lift themselves out of poverty....
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION - "Since businesses can only function when workers can get to their place of employment, we will invest in public transportation including rail, expand transportation options for low-income communities..."
LOW INCOME HEALTH CARE - "Improving maternal health also improves children's health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers...."
"We support providing Medicaid coverage to more low-income
"We must end health care disparities among minorities, American Indians, women, and low-income people through better research and better funded community-based health centers. We will make our health care system culturally sensitive and accessible to those who speak different languages. We will support programs that diversify the health are workforce to ensure culturally effective care. We will also address the social determinants that fuel health disparities, and empower the communities most impacted by providing them the resources and technical assistance to be their own agents of wellness. We will speed up and improve reimbursements by the Indian Health
UNIONS - "We know that when unions are allowed to do their job of making sure that workers get their fair share, they pull people out of poverty and create a stronger middle class...."
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION FOR THE POOR - "We will make quality, affordable early childhood care and education available to every American child from the day he or she is born. Our Children's First Agenda, including increases in Head Start and Early Head Start, and investments in high-quality Pre-K, will improve quality and provide learning and support to families with children ages zero to five. Our Presidential Early Learning Council will coordinate these efforts."
POOR CHILDREN -- "We will make an unprecedented national investment to guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early education, including investments in Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start, and we will help pay for child care. We will ensure that every child has health insurance, invest in playgrounds to promote healthy and active lifestyles, and protect children from lead poisoning in their homes and toys. Improving maternal health also improves children's health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers. We must protect our most vulnerable children, by supporting and supplementing our struggling foster care system, enhancing adoption programs for all caring parents, and protecting children from violence and neglect....."
PARENTING - "We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children's education from day one-who make sure their children are in school on time, help them with their homework, and attend those parent-teacher conferences; who are willing to turn off the TV once in a while, put away the video games, and read to their children. Responsibility for our children's education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable...."
"Too many fathers are missing-missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs, and end up in prison. We need more fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what makes a man is not the ability to have a child-it's the courage to raise one. We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit and we will crack down on men who avoid child support payments and ensure those payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies...."
LOW INCOME HOUSING - "We will support affordable rental housing, which is now more critical than ever. We will implement the newly created Affordable Housing Trust Fund to ensure that it can start to support the development and preservation of affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the country, restore cuts to public housing operating subsidies, and fully fund the Community Development Block Grant program. We will work with local jurisdictions on the problem of vacant and abandoned housing in our communities. We will work to end housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity. We will combat homelessness and target homelessness among veterans in particular by expanding proven programs and launching innovative preventive services...."
URBAN POLICY - "We look forward to greater partnership with urban America. We will strengthen federal commitment to cities, including by creating a new White House Office on Urban Policy and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant. We support community-based initiatives, such as micro-loans, business assistance centers, community economic development corporations, and community development financial institutions....."
FAITH BASED - "To face today's challenges-from saving our planet to ending poverty--we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy....
This article is cross-posted from Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.