Today, much like the days when Lyndon B. Johnson announced a War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address 50 years ago, millions of Americans are still living in poverty, but though hunger advocates say LBJ laid out a plan to lift up the impoverished, they say that today's legislators just aren't following it. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report as part of NY1's series on Black History Month.
New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg says that we aren't living up to President Lyndon B. Johnson's legacy.
Fifty years after LBJ's War on Poverty allocated federal money to move poor Americans out of despair with programs such as food stamps, legislators on Capitol Hill seem bent on cuts to that program, currently known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
"We shouldn't be shocked that when we add money to poverty, poverty goes down, and when we take away the money, poverty goes up," Berg said.
Cuts to SNAP in November and an $8 million decrease in benefits to recipients nationwide set to take effect in August contradict the goal of, and accomplishments made during, the Johnson era.
"We almost entirely ended hunger in the United States of America in the 1970s, for instance, by increasing the Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs, but now, we've gone backwards," Berg said. "We've rolled back on what works, and we're doing precisely the opposite."
While legislators struggle to balance the country's budget, and some stand by the cuts, arguing that government assistance is a crutch rather than a remedy for poverty, Berg still says that the prescription to the increasing poverty rate is simple: put the money back into prevention programs.
He means more than food stamps. Johnson also believed in expanding the government's role in health care, and an increased government role in education, something that Berg says the city's new mayor understands.
"Universal pre-k is a key way to reduce poverty," Berg said. "Not only will it improve the long-term educational outcomes of young people, which will reduce poverty, not only will it give working parents a way to work, it will also reduce child hunger by making sure kids get free meals."
Ultimately, though, Berg says many programs are needed that all together, will help Americans work their way out of poverty, with a safety net to save the money they earn, similar to LBJ's original War on Poverty plan.