A coalition of faith leaders gathered on Capitol Hill on Thursday to deliver an impassioned demand for more congressional action to combat poverty, telling lawmakers they have a moral obligation to improve life for low-income Americans.
The faith leaders called on the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to take at least three votes on major progressive issues before midterm elections in November.
They emphasized the importance of putting lawmakers “on the record” about strengthening voting rights, raising wages and reinstating pandemic-era policies aimed at lifting families out of poverty.
“We’re in a moral crisis,” said the Rev William J Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). “The very soul of this democracy will implode if we don’t deal with these issues.”
The press conference, organized by the group Repairers of the Breach, came one week after US census data indicated that the US child poverty rate fell by nearly half last year.
Faith leaders warned that such progress made since the start of the coronavirus pandemic could be reversed if Congress does not act to extend policies like the expanded child tax credit, which provided monthly checks to millions of families. That program expired at the end of last year, when Democrats failed to pass the Build Back Better Act.
“It’s important to note that these numbers are down based on an antiquated and inadequate poverty measure but also because of temporary relief from the child tax credit,” said Rev Dr Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the PPC.
“The fact that that has not been extended, that it has not been expanded, that we haven’t seen the minimum wage raised, that we are still fighting for our voting rights means that millions upon millions of people’s lives are being cut short.”
Dozens of faith leaders spoke, applauding the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ healthcare and climate package, while lamenting that poverty-fighting policies were left out. They insisted Democrats must do more to help low-income families.
“Our country is broken. People are suffering, and we must do better,” said Sheila Katz, chief executive officer of National Council of Jewish Women. “Let me be clear: it is a policy decision that millions of children are living in poverty. It is a policy decision that millions of families are living paycheck to paycheck.”
With less than 50 days until the midterm elections, Democrats show few signs of progress on new anti-poverty legislation, as many incumbents turn their attention to re-election campaigns.
Republicans are favored to take the House in November. If Republicans do so, any hope of extending the expanded child tax credit or restoring critical voting protections will vanish.
“This is why we’re saying there has to be a vote before November,” Barber said. “We’re not afraid of losing. We’re afraid of the American people not knowing who stands where … And if you do it, you will see a massive turnout of low-income voters like you’ve never seen before.”
Several progressive House members attended the press conference, reaffirming their commitment to helping those in poverty.
But they acknowledged Democrats have had trouble advancing progressive policies in the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans have been able to filibuster proposals embraced by Barber and his allies.
Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have objected to proposals to amend the filibuster to help overcome Republican obstruction.
“The political will oftentimes in the Senate, I have to say quite frankly, has not been there,” said Barbara Lee, a California congresswoman. “This is a numbers game here.”
Lee pledged to keep working with allies like Barber to help lift Americans out of poverty and ensure a more equitable future.
“We’re going to keep fighting until justice is done,” Lee told the faith leaders. “Have hope. You give us hope. You inspire us. And united we stand, divided we fall, but we’re going to keep standing and moving forward.”