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Sustained economic gains and strong federal and state programs have led to welcomed progress in the nationwide fight against poverty over the last several years. This is good news. But West Virginia is not sharing in the national progress, as poverty here remains stagnant. And actions from Congress and the Trump administration threaten to increase poverty even further.
That’s among the findings of Poverty in West Virginia: Lack of Progress and New Threats Ahead, a new report released today by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN).
West Virginia’s poverty rate in 2016 was 17.9 percent, unchanged from 2015 and statistically flat from 2007, before the Great Recession, according to data released this September by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, the poverty rate declined to 14.0 percent in 2016, down from 14.7 percent in 2015 and from a high of 15.9 percent in 2012.
“Progress has not come fast enough to West Virginia,” said Ted Boettner, Executive Director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “With job growth continuing and with strong federal and state programs for low-income West Virginians, we ought to be able to take steps to reduce poverty to below pre-recession levels. Unfortunately for the 319,000 West Virginians who live in poverty, we have not met this challenge.”
CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein said many West Virginians have been lifted out of poverty by programs such as housing assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), low-income tax credits and assistance for people with disabilities.
“But now these very programs are on the chopping block,” she said. “Budget proposals pending in Congress and backed by Congressional leadership as well as the White House would cut billions of dollars from these very programs. Such cuts would cause millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of West Virginians to suffer in poverty and near poverty.”
Poverty in West Virginia: Lack of Progress and New Threats Ahead notes that over the years, anti-poverty programs have lifted hundreds of thousands of West Virginians out of poverty. Examples: Between 2011 and 2013, 65,000 were lifted out of poverty by Supplemental Security Income (SSI), 74,000 fewer were poor because of SNAP, and 38,000 escaped poverty due to low-income tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
But these are the very programs threatened in Congress and by the Trump administration.
Overall, the report notes, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget passed by the House would slash programs serving low- and moderate-income people by $2.9 trillion over a decade. Even with the Affordable Care Act remaining in place for now, the House budget would slash Medicaid by $110 billion by adding a harmful work requirement for recipients. It would cut SNAP by $150 billion and cut roughly $500 billion from other low-income federal support programs such as the school lunch program, SSI and low-income tax credits. And it includes more than $90 billion in cuts to educational and social services programs and roughly $300 billion in cuts to other low-income programs, including rental assistance and job training.
“The budget shows the vision of the House leadership – to gut critical programs for low-income families in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and corporations,” Weinstein said. “If our elected leaders really want to boost our economy and create jobs and a highly-skilled labor force, they would invest in programs that lift millions of children out of poverty, not cut them. They would invest in programs that allow parents to find and keep good paying jobs, like training programs, scheduling and paid leave protections, and child care. And they would require the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share, so we can increase these investments.”