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Speeches and Statements

Rep. Murphy Subcommittee Speech, Combatting Child Poverty in America

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Washington, March 11, 2020 | comments
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to the witnesses for your testimony.

I’m glad we’re holding this hearing on the best ways to combat child poverty in America.

Like other members of this Subcommittee, I view this issue through the lens of my own life.

Four decades ago, my family fled a country whose government did not respect human rights or human dignity.

America rescued us. It offered us sanctuary and afforded us opportunities. I spent my childhood living in a trailer park in rural Virginia, going with my parents to their second jobs cleaning offices because they needed to work multiple jobs to make ends meet but couldn’t afford child care.

I rose from these humble beginnings to hold fulfilling jobs in offices similar to the ones we used to clean; to work at the Department of Defense, and finally to serve here in the United States Congress.

Sometimes the most grateful American citizens were born outside her shores. We realize how special America is, because we know what the alternative can look like.

To the extent I’ve been successful in America, it took self-discipline, the help of unbelievably hard-working parents, and—yes—support from my government at critical points in my life—namely, access to good public schools and Pell grants that enabled me to get a quality education.

These weren’t hand-outs, they were hand-ups—I like to think of them as investments made in me, in my future, and in our country.

So when I think about what makes America great, I don’t just think about our powerful military and our vibrant economy.

I also think about our nation’s commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of the circumstances they are born into, has a fair shot at achieving their version of the American dream.

We can’t just preach about this. We have to put it into practice—and that requires good policies.

In Congress, we should sustain and strengthen those initiatives that have proven effective at empowering low-income families. We should reform efforts that are not getting the job done. And we should consider new, creative and fiscally-responsible ways to tackle the problem.

I know coronavirus is on everyone’s mind right now—and it’s made something crystal clear. Having a government that takes care of the least among us, that fights so every American family can meet their basic needs, is not just the right thing to do—it’s also the smart and safe thing to do for our society.

When a family doesn’t have health insurance, and when they are struggling financially, they won’t be inclined to visit a doctor or hospital to get tested or treated if they feel sick. In a pandemic, this poses a risk to themselves and others.

When we don’t provide for our fellow Americans, we endanger them and we endanger ourselves. Coronavirus reminds us that we are one community, linked to each other, and dependent on one another. Our fates are intertwined, for better or for worse.

I have two questions. Ms. Bivens, I represent a district in central Florida. Nearly one-quarter of Florida residents under age 18 live in poverty. Of those, almost half live in deep poverty. If you had a magic wand, and could make one change to federal law to improve these startling statistics, what would it be?

Mr. Haskins, I represent more individuals of Puerto Rican heritage than nearly any other Member. Many have left Puerto Rico because of economic conditions, and most have friends and family still living on the island. Puerto Rico and the other territories are excluded from, or treated worse, under many of our key anti-poverty programs—like SSI, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, and refundable tax credits. How high is child poverty in the territories compared to the rest of the United States? What are some policies that would help reduce child poverty in the territories?
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