Lawmakers agree poverty level is high, disagree on how to solve it

MGN Online
Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 2:36pm

Nearly 50 million. That's how many Americans are living in poverty today. It's an obvious problem, but unfortunately without an obvious solution.

President Barack Obama last week announced economic "Promise Zones," aimed at hard-hit areas, where the administration is trying to attract investments for improving job creation, education, affordable housing and overall economic security.

Still, 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his "war on poverty," the poverty rate remains high, and lawmakers in Washington are still debating what could be potential solutions.

That debate continued on "Fox News Sunday" with Reps. Steve Southerland, R-Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.

On the Democratic side of the debate, Van Hollen said investments must be made by the government in infrastructure both to improve it and to create construction jobs for those who are out of work. Van Hollen suggested a rise in the federal minimum wage and an endorsement of those "Promise Zones."

"The President's 'Promise Zones' are part of an overall strategy to try and get the economy going and have more broadly shared prosperity," Van Hollen said.

But on the Republican side, Southerland said the government can only do so much in situations like these. He suggested maintaining two-parent households and having more parental involvement in school to help lift families out of poverty.

Southerland also suggested that renewing federal long-term unemployment insurance, which expired last year, might actually do more harm than good.

"Last July, North Carolina's emergency unemployment ended and since then they've created 35,000 jobs and the unemployment rate has gone from 8.9(%) to 7.4(%)," Southerland said.

"Let's learn from that. Let's learn how we can apply it on a more broad scale, because Republicans believe we've got to get this economy moving. Because when you get the economy moving, investors, job creators are going to do what they do best."

But Van Hollen called out Republicans and in particular Sen. Rand Paul, who says unemployment insurance is a detriment.

"They take the insulting position that these people are just sitting back and taking unemployment compensation," Van Hollen said.

Republicans say they must have spending cuts to offset the cost of a renewal of unemployment insurance. Democrats originally balked at the proposal, but there are now some signs of concession.

Regardless, poverty remains an issue bigger than any one piece of legislation or economic proposal -- and for tens of millions of Americans, a daily fact of life. 

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