The past year saw a highly polarized and gridlocked Congress, with many elected officials unresponsive to their poorest constituents – a challenging climate from which to advance policies and programs to ensure upward mobility for people in poverty.
The Shriver Center’s annual Poverty Scorecard shines a light on important poverty-related legislation considered by Congress in the past year and provides a comprehensive look at how each representative voted on poverty, as well as a benchmark for Congress’s overall efforts.
Congress remains highly polarized on poverty-related issues, with most members at either the top or the bottom of the grading scale.
95 of 100 Senators received a grade of A, D, or F and only 5 got a B or C. In the House, only 2 percent of Representatives received a B or C grade.
Despite this polarization, Congress passed and the President signed into law three pieces of legislation of great significance to people living in poverty.
Congress made the 2009 improvements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) permanent. These improvements lowered the income level to qualify for the CTC, increased the EITC for large families, and reduced the EITC’s marriage penalty for those filing jointly. Together, these working-family tax credits keep more children out of poverty than any other existing policy tool. Making the improvements permanent means they will continue to lift roughly 16 million people above or closer to the poverty line, including up to 8 million children. Along with the Affordable Care Act, this legislation had more impact in fighting poverty than any other legislation in the past twenty years.
As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress provided substantial relief from spending limits on programs that help low-income people imposed by a budgeting process called “sequestration”. Affected programs include child care, Head Start, federal support for low-income schools, job training, housing assistance, and services for seniors and individuals experiencing homelessness.
Congress reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance to children who are low-income but above the income cutoff for Medicaid eligibility. The CHIP reduces the number of uninsured children and provides access to quality care that improves health outcomes.
As a group, Members of Congress from states with the highest poverty rates were the least responsive to their low-income constituents.
For example, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas, each with poverty rates of around 20 percent, are among the states with the sixth highest poverty rates in the U.S.but the Congressional delegations from those states had among the worst voting records on poverty-related issues. New Mexico was the only state with a high poverty rate whose Congressional delegation had a good voting record on poverty-related issues.
Members of Congress can do much more to address the needs facing low-income Americans and provide opportunities for economic advancement. And we see growing opportunities for progress at the state level. The Poverty Scorecard also features legislative successes to support communities in need from our Legal Impact Network and illuminates the potential for state-level efforts to fight poverty more effectively.
The Poverty Scorecard arms the public with critical information and tools to hold their elected officials accountable in advancing policies that promote equity and opportunity for all.
The Shriver Center welcomes media inquiries regarding the Poverty Scorecard or our other efforts to advance social and economic justice for low-income people. Contact Michelle Nicolet at 312.368.2675 for more information.