This is the third in our series about the values, visions, and policies each of the Democratic nominees to replace Greg Gianforte would bring to the Congress if elected.
Question 3. What do you think the role of the federal government should be when it comes to alleviating poverty? Are there specific elements of our nation’s social welfare policies you would change? Programs that should be cut? Expanded?
I want people to have real opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty with good-paying jobs. Hard work gives people dignity and purpose. Those jobs do not simply appear, and not all jobs pay a living wage. Wal-Mart workers, for example, live on food stamps and rent subsidies. Corporations have a duty to pay their full-time workers enough money to live without government subsidies.
Some people blame the working poor for making too little money. They argue that the working poor do not work hard enough. Those arguments misunderstand capitalism. They do not account for the people working two jobs who can barely make ends meet.
Capitalism provides one great benefit: it uses competition to push price to marginal cost—the cost of producing one additional unit. In other words, under capitalism, everyone competes to sell products at the lowest cost. Lower prices mean that the same amount of money can fill more needs. That system works great for bricks, and cars, and televisions. It works less well when it pushes wages down to survival wages—and a business spends 70 % of its costs on employees.
We can counter capitalism’s downward pressure on wages by using three levers for pushing workers’ wages up: (1) raise the minimum wage, (2) increase demand for jobs, and (3) expand sector unions. The first one is easy. For the second, the wind and the trees will create good-paying, industrial jobs in Montana, and that will raise wages.
For unions, I want sector unions in the United States: all food workers, all baristas, all timber workers, and all wind energy workers in separate unions, for example. Employers fear losing their businesses from unions forming. They fear having to pay higher, union wages, and then have to charge higher prices. Their competitors, who would not have to pay union wages, could charge lower prices and put the union business out of business.
My family knows this story directly. When my grandfather ran the Toggery, a shoe and clothing store in Whitefish, he feared the clerks forming a union. A union would have forced him to raise his prices to pay the higher wages. Then, shoppers would have gone to Kalispell for cheaper prices.
Sector unions would alleviate that obstacle to unions. Sector unions would require all employers to pay union wages. Because all employers would have to pay the same wages, employers would not have to fear unions threating their businesses. Expanding unions will increase wages and give workers more freedom.
A healthier job market using these three levers (minimum wage, the wind and the trees, and sector unions) will grow Montana’s and the United States’ economies. When workers have more money, they have more freedom. And when they buy more goods and services with that money, the economy will grow. These policies will build Montana and the United States for the future.
I was raised by a working single mom, so I know first-hand how important some of these poverty programs are to the people who use them. Sometimes just a little help can mean the difference between able to buy your children school supplies or not, and we unfortunately just don’t have people in Congress who understand what that kind of assistance means for low-income families.
The first thing we need Congress to do is to abandon this heartless campaign to cut important programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and other welfare and housing programs. Ever since Congressional Republicans passed their Tax Scam Bill and raised the national deficit by almost $1.5 trillion dollars, they’ve been looking for programs to cut. Their Tax Plan created a timebomb for low-income Montanans who use these programs to supplement their incomes. This all part of their great scam on Americans, to raise the deficit in order to give tax breaks to billionaires, and using the increased deficit as cause to make cuts to entitlements. We need our Congressperson to push back, get corporations to pay their fair share, and protect programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Our Congressperson also needs to advocate for programs that are aimed at our Native American populations, who are often neglected or forgotten by our federal government. The Office of Native American Programs (ONAP) under the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers some essential programs for Native Americans that provide affordable housing that are especially important for Native Americans who are looking for affordable housing resources on reservations. The Republican Administration has proven time and time again that they are more concerned with dismantling the agencies or departments they are charged with, so our congressional delegation needs to act as a watchdog to make sure programs like ONAP are being funded and implemented.
Fundamentally, I believe that our Federal government has a critical role to play in alleviating poverty.
I am running as an FDR Democrat. In the 1930’s, President Roosevelt laid out an economic bill of rights, that if adopted, would reduce unemployment, revitalize the middle class, ensure the dignity of a job to all that are willing to work. The Economic Bill of Rights would also benefit a farmer’s right to a fair economy, protect against unfair competition and monopolies, help low-wage workers with housing and medical care, ensure equal access to education, and provide social security of our aging population.
Women are 35 percent more likely than men to be poor in America, and single mothers are hit the hardest. Women are the sole or co-breadwinners in half of American families, and make up almost half our workforce. Yet women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color earn even less. Equal pay for equal work is not only about social justice; it just makes economic sense.
Being poor is not intentional. Poverty is complex. It defies geography. Poverty touches all cultures and ages.
Lack of financial capability and limited or no access to good paying jobs contribute to poverty as well as systemic issues of race, discrimination, and equity.
I believe a fundamental role of government is to provide a helping hand to those with less means. I will support the continued funding for federal programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental and Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Head Start-federal programs that provide safety nets for children, single parents and families.
Communities across the nation are addressing income equality by leveraging federal dollars with funding from philanthropy, non-profits, churches and the business sectors. These community partnerships support grass-roots efforts. As an example, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) provide financial education, savings accounts and small loans for individuals and businesses in low-income, underserved areas. CDFIs are certified by the Department of the Treasury and they are structured to leverage grants, contributions and earned income. Today, Native-lead CDFIs are providing critical services in Indian Country.
Other community-based programs addressing poverty include affordable housing, community healthcare centers and public transportation. Federal funds in these areas are matched by state and local government as well as by grants from foundations, donor, and businesses. Foundations like the Northwest Area Foundation on which I serve as the Vice Chair, are leading the way by providing critical funding to underserved communities in Indian Country as well as to African American, Hmong and Latino communities across the eight states served by the Foundation.
Congress is threatening the social safety net that is a critical backstop against poverty in America. Greg Gianforte’s first bill in Congress mandated a balanced budget. Only a few months later, he voted to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit. Gianforte and his allies are already looking for new cuts to pay for their misguided tax cut. Our safety net is in unprecedented danger.
As of 2016, as many as one in five Americans would be in poverty if not for Social Security and tax credits for the working poor. Although overall poverty levels have been slightly dropping this decade, the number of people who are 65 and over and struggling economically is increasing, with a major factor being health care costs.
Social Security, refundable tax credits, supplemental nutrition assistance in the Farm Bill, supplemental security income for the disabled, and housing subsidies are critical in helping people out of poverty. We need to ensure any threats to them are defeated.
Poverty is a difficult cycle to break out of, so we also need to foster good public schools across America, affordable child care, job training opportunities, and self-determination. Because many (if not most) individuals and families are one health care crisis away from falling into poverty, ensuring affordable health care is a key part of the equation. We must fund our rural health centers, Community Access Hospitals, Federally Qualified Community Health Centers, CHIP, and Medicaid to ensure that people can seek and hold meaningful employment. We also need to eliminate food deserts and ensure access to affordable and healthy food.
In the Montana Legislature, as Vice Chair of the House Taxation Committee, I helped lead the effort to reintroduce a state-based Earned Income Tax Credit. With our committee team and the Montana Budget and Policy Center, we built support, got the bill out of committee, and laid important groundwork for its eventual passage. Today, that tax credit is available to 80,000 Montana families. I also voted to expand Medicaid. Today, Montana’s expanded Medicaid program provides health insurance to 91,000 low-income Montanans.
I have a record of rolling up my sleeves to help Montanans who are struggling to get and stay ahead. I will bring those values, and those results, to Washington.