After years of talk in meetings on panels and with various federal officials, the Congressional Black Caucus may have finally found a partner who cares about the issues of poverty: Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan is bringing up the issue of poverty with other House leaders.
At the Black Caucus’ weekly meeting last Wednesday, Speaker Ryan was a featured guest and how to deal with poverty came up, again. After the meeting with about 25 Black Caucus members including Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and the CBC’s only Republican Mia Love (R-UT) , Ryan stood in the hall for a few minutes talking to Black Caucus Chair G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) as he departed the 35 minute session in Longworth.
The subject of poverty, and 10-20-30 specifically, has been talked about many times before as Reps. Lee and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have pushed the “10-20-30” poverty plan. That plan would commit 10 percent of federal resources to 20 percent of the population that has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years or more. Such a plan would target mostly white counties in America, many of them in GOP congressional districts.
The issue of persistent poverty in America has mostly been off the table and unspoken of by President Obama over seven years. The U.S. now has over 45 million people in poverty. Twenty eight percent of African Americans including 38 percent of Black children now live in poverty in the U.S. But “poverty” has been a word rarely heard from the White House. Ignoring the problem for seven years hasn’t improved things. The poverty rate for African Americans went from 25 percent to 27 percent during Obama’s time in the White House.
Reps. Lee and Clyburn have raised the issue over the last six years with not much traction. But a new Speaker of the House who has tried in the past to focus substantively on the issue may change things. A rural version of 10-20-30 was included in the 2009 stimulus and 4,655 projects in persistent poverty counties were funded as a result.
Back in 2014, Clyburn testified in front of the House Budget Committee saying, “there are currently 488 persistent poverty counties in America—so defined because 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years or more. They are diverse, including Appalachian communities in states like Kentucky and West Virginia, Native American communities in states like Alaska and South Dakota, Latino communities in states like Arizona and Texas, African American communities in states like South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama.”
One of those poorest communities is that of Kentucky’s 5th congressional district. Congressman Hal Rogers, who is Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has presided over the district for over two decades. Kentucky’s 5th district is the second poorest in America, it is also the whitest (98 percent) congressional districts in the U.S.