By Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. Although measures have been taken to help quell the burden of poverty, more must be done to eliminate the financial hardships faced by many New Jersey families who are living below the poverty line.
As the U.S. economy struggles to recover, it is the families who have fallen into poverty that are the hardest hit. The obstacle of poverty impedes upon a person ability to reach their full potential. Poverty is much like a disease, spreading aggressively and malevolently through our communities. However, this disease is treatable and the cure is “willingness”.
It is our “willingness” to extend a helping hand to those in our community affected by the crippling hand of poverty. It is the “willingness” of our leaders, at all levels of government, to implement policies that will lift,citizens out of economic despair. And it is the “willingness” of all of us to acknowledge that all men, women, and children living in poverty are our brothers and sisters and as such we share an obligation to help.
Some may ask, “Why should I care?” claiming that it is not their responsibility to bailout the poor and that providing those in poverty with a safety net will only make them dependent. Well, to these individuals, I say—anyone of us is just one incident, one grievous accident away from losing it all. It takes only one catastrophic event in our life to catapult any of us into poverty.
Today, more than 2.7 million New Jersey residents live at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, 780,000 of which are children. And while many of these men and women have a full-time or multiple part-time jobs, they still struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s head.
This is why we must support policies that put our families first. Measures must be taken that ensures that no child goes hungry and that our brothers and sisters are not forced to live out on the street. Common sense solutions must be implemented to help prevent our neighbors from slipping into poverty and help lift those who have already fallen into financial hardship.
We have made great strides in reducing the financial burden of our lower income families by raising the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and by restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent, but more must be done. We must promote policies that focus on helping the families of our state. To help reduce the number on families below the poverty line in New Jersey, we must fight for legislation to help our residents get back to work. Although the unemployment rate continues to decrease in our state, we must do more to get our unemployed residents back into the work force. We need to invest in policies that provide education and job training to help the unemployed find work but also to help workers qualify for higher paying jobs. Also, with New Jersey’s high cost-of-living, we must offer our low-income families options for affordable housing.
More remains to be done to help New Jersey’s families and families across the nation escape the grips of poverty. I will continue to fight for legislation that will provide poverty stricken families the means to climb out of poverty and prevent others on the brink of poverty from falling into financial ruin. We all must reach into our hearts and lend a helping hand because sometimes all it takes is a little compassion to lift someone up in a time of need.