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Murray Delivers Floor Speech Commemorating Lyndon Johnson’s “War On Poverty,” Calls On Congress To Keep Up The Fight

Jan 08 2014

Murray: “…we cannot waver in the fight to give all Americans a fair chance to get ahead.”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks on the Senate floor commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson declaring a “War on Poverty.” Murray explained that while progress has been made since President Johnson’s declaration, Congress must continue to provide, and work to strengthen, the programs that give struggling Americans economic security and a chance to succeed.  

During the speech, Murray highlighted her first-hand experience of how safety net programs provided her family with assistance during a challenging time: “I know first-hand how vital those programs can be…Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times. But this country didn’t turn its back on us… Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with hard work and a little bit of luck, we would find our footing.  In Congress, we need to expand that hope to more and more Americans who are struggling today.”

Key Excerpts From Senator Murray’s Speech:

“President Johnson knew that the devastation of poverty went deeper than just the lack of a job or the lack of basic needs. Americans in poverty lacked even a fair chance to make a better life for themselves and for their families…we’re moving in the right direction but we still have much more work to do to give everyone the fair chance they need to succeed in this country”

“…for too many people today, the war on poverty is a daily battle just to make ends meet…to win this fight, we need to strengthen the programs that support those in need.” 

“Without question, one of the reasons we’ve seen a decline in poverty is because of programs that provide a safety net for the most vulnerable Americans.”

“…even with the successes we’ve had in fighting hunger and unemployment, there are those in Congress who want to slash the very assistance that gives so many Americans an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families…we cannot waver in the fight to give all Americans a fair chance to get ahead.”

“I know first-hand how vital those programs can be…Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times. But this country didn’t turn its back on us… Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with hard work and a little bit of luck, we would find our footing.  In Congress, we need to expand that hope to more and more Americans who are struggling today.

“…fifty years ago, President Johnson recognized that poverty is a national problem. That’s why he made it a national priority. Today, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to that national priority. Let’s work together to support the men and women across the country who hope for their chance at the American Dream. Today, let’s not just commemorate this anniversary. Let’s begin with a renewed energy to winning the war on poverty in our country, once and for all.”

Full Text of Senator Murray’s Speech:

“Thank you, Madam. President.

“Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson made his first State of the Union address.

“He used that date – January 8th 1964 – to chart a new agenda for the country and to declare that America would take on an ‘unconditional war on poverty.’

“With that directive, Congress worked on some of the most successful programs in the history of our country. Programs like Medicare, Head Start, Pell Grants and expansions to Social Security.

“President Johnson knew that the devastation of poverty went deeper than just the lack of a job or the lack of basic needs.

“Americans in poverty lacked even a fair chance to make a better life for themselves and for their families.

“Since 1964, economists estimate the poverty rate has fallen by 10 percent when accounting for social safety net programs.

“So, we’re moving in the right direction. But we still have much more work to do to give everyone the fair chance they need to succeed in this country.

“Madam President, for too many people today, the war on poverty is a daily battle just to make ends meet.

“More than 46 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. More than 20 percent – that’s one in five – American kids live in poverty.

“To win this fight, we need to strengthen the programs that support those in need.

“Without question, one of the reasons we’ve seen a decline in poverty is because of programs that provide a safety net for the most vulnerable Americans.

“In 1964, Congress created the Food Stamp Program for those struggling to feed their families. Today, it’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“In 2012 alone, the SNAP program lifted 4.9 million people out of poverty, according to the Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities.

“We’ve also worked to make sure preschoolers from low-income areas have the building blocks they need to start kindergarten, ready to learn. Since the mid-1960s, Head Start has provided early childhood learning and health services to more than 30 million children and their families. That’s the kind of progress we need to continue.

“Those programs, and many more like them, have provided economic security and opportunity to millions across our country.

“And yet, even with the successes we’ve had in fighting hunger and unemployment, there are those in Congress who want to slash the very assistance that gives so many Americans an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

“Madam President, we cannot waver in the fight to give all Americans a fair chance to get ahead.

“We must expand opportunities for young learners by investing in universal pre-k. We must ensure workers can earn enough to put food on the table by raising the minimum wage. We have to keep fighting – and we must win – the war on poverty.

“I know first-hand how vital those programs can be.

“When I was 15, my dad, who had fought in World War II, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Within just a few years, he couldn’t work. My mom found a job. But it didn’t pay nearly enough to support seven kids and a husband with a growing stack of medical bills.

“Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times. But this country didn’t turn its back on us.  

“For several months, we relied on food stamps. It wasn’t much, but we were able to get by.

“With the help of a government program, my mom attended Lake Washington Vocational School.  With that training, she was able to find a better paying job to support our family.

“My older brother, my twin sister, and I were able to stay in college because of student loans and support from what we now call Pell Grants.

“Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with hard work and a little bit of luck, we would find our footing.  

“In Congress, we need to expand that hope to more and more Americans who are struggling today.

“Madam President, fifty years ago, President Johnson recognized that poverty is a national problem.

“That’s why he made it a national priority.

“Today, let’s re-dedicate ourselves to that national priority.

“Let’s work together to support the men and women across the country who hope for their chance at the American Dream.

“Today, let’s not just commemorate this anniversary. Let’s begin with a renewed energy to winning the war on poverty in our country, once and for all.

“Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.”