Plan to End Poverty

One out of every eight Americans—about 40 million people, including nearly 10 million children—live in poverty in the United States. Our child poverty rate is among the highest of any advanced economy, and child poverty alone costs the United States between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion each year, an aggregation of the detrimental effects of poverty on human health, earning potential, incarceration, and so many other harms that last a lifetime.

The numbers are even more distressing for communities of color: Black and Latino children are more than twice as likely to grow up in poverty as white children. Those disparities are reinforced by segregated housing and school districts that concentrate poverty and deny many children a fair opportunity to rise into the middle class. This has resulted in deteriorating economic mobility and rising inequality, as well as stubborn racial gaps in wealth, income, health, education, incarceration, and a host of other areas.

There aren’t just disparities along racial lines, but also regional lines. Poverty rates in rural areas are 25 percent higher than in metropolitan areas.

Living in poverty is a daily and persistent crisis for families experiencing it. Behind the numbers are individual stories of struggle, stress, and pain that have no place in the wealthiest country the world has ever known. Yet the politicians in Washington almost never discuss—much less grapple with—the huge disparities faced by kids like the ones I served as superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, the majority of whom are kids of color and kids living in poverty. These students are doing their jobs, trying to finish their homework, study for exams, and learn the skills they need to succeed as workers and citizens. All they are asking is that we do our jobs and commit to providing every person in America with the opportunity to live a decent life.

Despite these daunting statistics, many politicians in Washington choose to focus their efforts and policies on affluent people with ready access to our political system, while mostly ignoring people living in poverty.

When I was a school superintendent, I often used to ask, “Why is Washington so mean to our kids?” When I arrived in the Senate, it became immediately clear that there was no place further from our classrooms.

People who are struggling to make ends meet financially do not have the time or financial means to travel to Washington, hire a lobbyist, or make large political donations. They face barriers to voting that lead to lower rates of turnout in elections, especially in states that are actively seeking to disenfranchise low-income voters and people of color. They need leaders who are putting the interests of the next generation first because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a political incentive or reward on the other end.

Here is the good news: It is within our power to move tens of millions of Americans out of poverty and into the middle class, if we simply make the effort. 

We can reap the massive rewards of a society that truly provides opportunity to every one of its citizens. Anti-poverty policies work. Without Social Security and Medicare, senior poverty rates would be much, much higher. Social Security alone lifts 27 million Americans, mostly seniors, out of poverty. Tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit lift another 9 million Americans out of poverty. Other programs such as housing support, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) lift millions more above or closer to the poverty line.

As president I will lead the country to:

  • Cut child poverty in half by the end of my first year in office;
  • Cut adult poverty in half by the end of my first term;
  • Eliminate homelessness by the end of my second term; and
  • Put America on the path to completely eliminate poverty within a generation.

This will require the most ambitious effort to fight poverty since the Great Society, and I will use every authority available to me as president. We will succeed by enlisting every level of government and every sector of our economy—nonprofits, philanthropy, advocacy groups, schools, health institutions, service providers, and businesses—in a coordinated national effort. Unlike my primary opponents in this race, I will show how I can pay for every dollar of this plan without unclear numbers or unrealistic projections.

For too long, we have allowed a narrative to persist in America that if people’s lives are made miserable enough—if we just attach enough red tape, paperwork, and work requirements to health care or nutrition assistance—they will be motivated to work. The truth is that Americans who are able to work are highly motivated to work. We have just made it too hard for people to work, due to factors like the high costs of child care and transportation, and too hard for families in poverty to move to neighborhoods near good jobs and good schools. That’s why my plan is built around creating opportunity and rewarding the dignity of work, rather than repeating efforts to punish the poor that we have seen fail time and again.

As president, I will lead from the White House with one central question in mind: Will this help or hurt the next generation? My administration will put the issue of fighting poverty—especially child poverty—front and center. That is how we will make our country stronger, and that is what we owe the next generation.

Overview

Immediately Increase Economic Security

  • Immediately cut child poverty by nearly 40 percent with my American Family Act, a major increase to the Child Tax Credit
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to $3,000 for workers without children
  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Enact paid family and medical leave

Invest in Education, Skills, and Job Creation for Low-Income Workers

  • Implement universal, high-quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds
  • Make our K-12 education system an engine of upward mobility rather than an accelerant of inequality
  • Invest $500 billion to provide the skills to earn a living wage to the nearly 70 percent of Americans without a four-year college degree
  • Provide debt-free college, including tuition, fees, and room and board, for every low- and moderate-income student
  • Create jobs and make major investments to combat climate change and upgrade our infrastructure

Strengthen Our Safety Net

  • Automatically support the economy with direct payments to individual taxpayers when unemployment rises
  • Ramp up fiscal support for states when the economy weakens
  • Reform unemployment insurance to make it a stronger support for workers and to help the unemployed get back to work
  • Automatically increase other safety net programs in a downturn
  • Reverse the Trump Administration’s damaging attacks on SNAP and Medicaid

Tackle the Housing Affordability Crisis

  • Fully eliminate the 7.2 million unit national shortage of affordable housing for low-income renters
  • Combat exclusionary housing policy that stifles opportunity and segregates communities
  • Fully fund housing vouchers so all eligible renters—not just one in four—receive support
  • End homelessness by 2028 by expanding housing for people experiencing homelessness and increasing supportive services

Cover Every American with High-Quality, Affordable Health Insurance

  • Lower healthcare costs, cut prescription drug prices, and cover every American with high-quality, affordable health insurance by putting in place my Medicare-X public option plan

Full Plan

Immediately Increase Economic Security

We can take immediate and consequential steps to fight poverty and improve economic security for tens of millions of Americans. To do that, the Bennet Administration will:

  • Expand the Child Tax Credit through the American Family Act, which will provide a tax credit of up to $300 per month per child to help middle-class families afford to raise kids and immediately cut child poverty by nearly 40 percent.
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to up to $3,000 per worker without children, growing the paychecks of tens of millions of Americans.
  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 or more in high-cost cities.
  • Enact paid family and medical leave so workers receive 70 percent of their monthly wages for up to 12 weeks when they take time to care for a newborn, address a serious health condition, or take care of an ailing family member.

Invest in Education, Skills, and Job Creation for Low-Income Workers

The Bennet Administration will make major investments in job creation, education, and skills development to lift Americans out of poverty, including:

  • Implement universal, high-quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds in partnership with state and local governments.
  • Make our K-12 education system an engine of upward mobility rather than an accelerant of inequality. We will make a commitment that by 2028, our education system will ensure students arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn; can read by grade 3; are proficient in math and reading by grade 8; can think critically and solve problems; graduate high school with the ability to earn a living wage, not just the minimum wage; enter post-secondary education—if that’s the path they choose—prepared to learn without remediation and to persist to an on-time graduation; and enter adulthood ready to participate in their democracy as informed citizens.
  • Invest $500 billion over 10 years to provide the skills needed for the nearly 70 percent of Americans without a four-year college degree to advance in the 21st century economy and earn a living wage, not just the minimum wage. This investment would support states that develop subsidized employment opportunities, such as the successful efforts in the Recovery Act through the TANF emergency fund, with funding to reimburse employers for up to 100 percent of the first six months of wages, with an additional retention bonus of up to $6,000 for employers who retain workers for two years. These programs would target the long-term unemployed; people eligible for public assistance; and the formerly incarcerated, among others.
  • Provide debt-free college, including tuition, fees, and room and board, for every low- and moderate-income student. We will make major federal investments alongside state governments to make a four-year public college degree debt free for families with incomes below $75,000 per year.
  • Create jobs and make major investments to combat climate change and upgrade our infrastructure. We will drive $10 trillion in job-creating public-private investment to combat climate change, creating millions of good-paying American jobs. We also will enact a $1 trillion investment to upgrade America’s infrastructure, including our roads, bridges, airports, mass transit, and water infrastructure, and connect every community in America to high-speed, modern broadband internet.

Strengthen Our Safety Net

When the economy deteriorates, the people hit hardest are those who are already struggling. We need to make more of the response to a recession automatic and have those automatic responses occur quickly to avert the damage to workers and families, consistent with the recent recommendations put forward by a group of economic experts. We also need to update our safety net programs more generally, even outside of the context of a recession. Finally, we must reverse the harmful policies put in place by the Trump Administration to kick millions of people off of Medicaid, SNAP, and other programs that support vulnerable Americans. The Bennet Administration will:

  • Automatically issue direct payments to individuals when the unemployment rate rises significantly above its lows over the previous year and an additional payment if unemployment rises even further. These payments will be structured to initially scale to about 0.8 percent of GDP, with an equal payment per adult and per dependent child. They will decline as the economy returns to health.
  • Automatically ramp up state fiscal support when the economy weakens, through a larger federal share of funding for Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), education, and firefighters and police officers on the job during downturns.
  • Reform unemployment insurance to automatically increase the federal share of support to states when state unemployment rates rise, increase unemployment benefit amounts in severe downturns, and extend the duration of unemployment insurance to up to 99 weeks in the most severe recessions. The Bennet Administration will also update the regular unemployment compensation (UC) program to expand eligibility and improve the minimum level of benefits.
  • Automatically increase other safety net programs in a downturn by expanding SNAP benefits by up to 15 percent during recessions. We also will eliminate work requirements on SNAP, Medicaid, and other programs that are designed as administrative hurdles to kick people off of these programs, many of whom are working but lose critical support because of paperwork or other barriers.
  • Reverse the Trump Administration’s damaging attack on Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE), which is designed to intentionally throw three million Americans off of SNAP.

Tackle the Housing Affordability Crisis

Our nation faces a shortage of more than 7.2 million affordable homes available to low-income renters. Nearly 40 million middle- and lower-income households are “cost-burdened,” spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent or a mortgage, including 18 million households that pay more than half of their income on housing. We must overhaul our federal housing policy so that every American can afford a stable home in a thriving community. The Bennet Administration will:

  • Fully eliminate the 7.2 million unit national shortage of affordable housing for low-income renters. We will directly support the building and refurbishment of 4 million affordable units through the Housing Trust Fund, Capital Magnet Fund, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and USDA’s rural housing programs. We also will induce state and local leaders to break down barriers to affordable housing near good jobs and good schools by addressing the crucial link between housing and transportation. The Bennet Administration will require that competitive federal transportation investments go to communities that promote inclusive, affordable housing supply, including those that are measurably increasing affordable housing supply near existing transit hubs. We will triple the funding for competitive and innovative transportation funding through the BUILD (formerly TIGER) program—increasing annual funding to $4.5 billion—and strengthen the requirements for communities to develop in an inclusionary manner.
  • Combat exclusionary housing policy that stifles opportunity and segregates communities. We will create a one-time $10 billion competitive grant program for local governments, councils of governments, or state governments that reduce barriers restricting affordable housing in high-opportunity areas and increase the number of affordable units. These grants will be designed to ensure that a greater share of residents have access to the benefits of a growing economy.
  • Fully fund housing vouchers. Only one out of every four Americans who qualify receive a voucher, and the three out of four denied assistance face severe cost burdens. The Bennet Administration will dramatically increase the number of vouchers to fully meet the need over 15 years, including for the VASH program, which helps veterans. We will also increase the flexibility and effectiveness of the voucher program to help people live in a stable environment and better connect them with good job opportunities and good schools for their kids.
  • End homelessness by 2028 by expanding housing for people experiencing homelessness and increasing supportive services. We will create a $7.5 billion per-year grant program for states, local governments, and nonprofits to develop and expand innovative, community-based programs for people who are homeless. These programs will pair housing provision with supportive services, including mental and physical health, addiction treatment, high-quality job training, and financial literacy.

Cover Every American with High-Quality, Affordable Health Insurance

A family should never have to go bankrupt due to a medical expense, split prescription pills in half, or make decisions between paying the bills or paying for medicine. The Bennet Administration will:

  • Lower healthcare costs, cut prescription drug prices, and cover every American with high-quality, affordable health insurance. We will do this by implementing Medicare-X, a public option that gives people the choice of buying into a more affordable government plan. This will lower the cost of insurance for families who increase their earnings above Medicaid eligibility, which acts as a hidden tax on people pulling themselves out of poverty. Medicare-X will require the federal government, for the first time in history, to negotiate for lower drug prices. We also will automatically enroll all eligible Americans in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

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