WASHINGTON—The 2012 presidential campaign has not focused much on solutions for hunger and poverty in the United States, despite the fact that is widespread. The U.S. Bureau of Census announced Sept. 12 that the official poverty rate in 2011 was 15 percent, or 46.2 million people. Although poverty had been increasing for three consecutive years, these figures are not statistically different from the 2010 estimates.
With the certainty that budget cuts are coming, many Christian leaders of organizations involved in relief for hungry and homeless people in the United States are worried about how that will impact aid for those in poverty. A non-partisan movement called Circle of Protection is lobbying Congress and both presidential candidates to not allow drastic cuts or the elimination of programs that help the hungry and poor.
Bread for the World, a non-partisan coalition of Catholic and Protestant organizations, is organizing the movement. Its mission is pretty simple: to end hunger both at home and abroad. The programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world should be “protected,” according to the group’s website.
On July 6, Circle of Protection leaders invited the two main presidential candidates to submit short video presentations. Both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney complied.
On the day of the release of the Census Bureau report, Circle of Protection held a news conference in Washington to release the videos of the candidates’ positions on hunger and poverty.
Circle of Protection made clear that it does not support, oppose, or in any way endorse either candidate.
Both Obama and Romney tried to be reassuring that the hungry and homeless would not be abandoned. Both candidates introduce themselves by invoking their faith.
Romney began by praising “good people of faith” who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of the less fortunate. “These kind acts reveal the good heart of America,” he said.
Obama spoke about his personal faith and that it made him a better person. “My faith teaches me that poverty is a moral issue.” He explained that as one’s brother or sister’s keeper, “I believe that as a public servant, I must do my part to answer that call.”
Each candidate provided assurances that poverty advocates wanted to hear.
“We can pay down our debt in a balanced and responsible way, but we cannot balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable,” President Obama said. “And certainly can’t ask the poor, the sick, or those with disabilities to sacrifice even more … it’s morally wrong.”
Romney said that “…budget cuts are also going to be necessary and I intend to make them. Here you have my word: I’ll proceed carefully.
“I understand this is a delicate task,” he added. “Our government rightfully provides a safety net for the hungry and the homeless, the sick and the elderly, and we have a responsibility to keep it intact for future generations … I’m committed to protecting those in or near poverty.”
Both candidates said they were committed to retaining a safety net for the vulnerable.
In an interview on Fox news in Jan. 2008, Romney said, “We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that.”
Romney makes his main focus on creating jobs and improving opportunity and the business climate. He once said in an interview in 2008 at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he is not about “handing out cash to individuals. I do lower the lowest income tax bracket from 10 percent to 7.5 percent. And that helps, of course, people at the low economic level.”
Romney said when he was governor of Massachusetts he vetoed a state minimum wage law. He says that any increase in the minimum wage should be tied to inflation. “We should also look at the jobs level throughout the country, unemployment rate, competitive rates in other states or, in this case, other nations. So, certainly, the level of inflation is something you should look at and you should identify what’s the right way to keep America competitive,” according to the Kudrow report, March 5, 2012.
“But the heart of what I’m doing is trying to get businesses to become more active, buying capital equipment, trying to get businesses to grow in this country and to create more jobs… creating jobs, putting more people at work and, of course, that generates more income for everybody.,” quoted in 2012.candidate-comparison.org.
His tone can sound somewhat disparaging of people who rely on government aid. Mother Jones obtained a video of Romney speaking on May 17 at a private home of a fundraiser. Romney said:
“There are 47 percent [of the people] who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Mother Jones recording went on: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney acknowledged the next day at a press conference that he said the above, but conceded that it was “not elegantly stated.”
Obama is also uncomfortable with creating a society of dependence. In a White House press release in Nov. 2009, he said, “Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term. Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty,” quoted by 2012.candidate-comparison.org.
Obama promised in 2008 to raise the Minimum Wage to $9.50 by 2011, but the minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus, was signed by President Obama in February 2009. It provided some temporary relief to the unemployed, which included up to 79 weeks of benefits in the hardest-hit unemployment areas, and money for Medicaid and continuation of health coverage for those who became unemployed. The provisions of the ARRA helped keep many people out of poverty.
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