SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Civil rights champion U.S. Rep. John Lewis and other political dignitaries joined hundreds of people at St. John’s Well and Child Family Center April 9 in support of new state anti-poverty legislation.
The legislation, the Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act of 2017, has been introduced by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke and aims to end child poverty in California.
It would reduce the need for social services, including health care, foster care and juvenile incarceration, while saving taxpayer dollars.
“We have to be persistent and we have to resist, and we have to change things,” Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, said to a crowd of hundreds. “And we can do it here in America now by starting here in California.”
During the rally, Lewis spoke about his own experience growing up in rural Alabama.
“I grew up very, very poor,” Lewis said. “But I’ll tell you, I had wonderful members of my mother’s family—uncles and aunts and cousins—that looked out for us. If it hadn’t been for people helping out, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. So we must never, ever, give up on any child.”
Among those attending the rally were U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives; U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, state Sen. Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and many others.
According to Burke, California has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, and Mitchell believes it’s due to more than one issue.
“For one, our cost of living is high,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, our government programs designed to protect and support low-income families underwent severe budget cuts in the early 2000s during the economic downfall. That hit us hard, and we’re still trying to recover from it now.”
Mitchell added that the high cost of living too often forces families to work multiple jobs just to “make ends meet.”
“When you see the amazing research that Stanford and UC Davis have done, there’s a direct link between poverty and educational outcomes, foster care, juvenile incarceration, child welfare services, life expectancy,” Mitchell said.
The legislation, Mitchell added, will provide support and intervention to lift families and children out of long-term poverty.
Assembly Bill 1520 seeks to reduce child poverty by 50 percent over a 20-year period beginning with the 2018-19 fiscal year.
To achieve that goal, the measure would emphasize support on childcare and childhood education, job training, prenatal assistance, welfare to help families financially while they find work or complete a vocational program, and would raise the earned income tax credit.
“As opposed to relying on politics or assumptions, AB 1520 is a scientifically designed, comprehensive plan designed to break the cycle of poverty for 1 million California children,” Burke said in a press release.
The focus, she said in a phone interview, is to identify families that live in poverty and begin helping them in the prenatal stages. Once the child is born, the state will offer nutrition and learning support.
“Many children don’t learn because they lack the nutrition to help their brains develop and work,” Burke said, adding that of the 1.9 million children living in poverty in the state, two-thirds of them are black and Latino.
The measure comes during a time when state federal funding for programs that help the most vulnerable people — including after-school programs and free school meals — are being threatened.
The bill also requires the state Department of Finance to analyze and report on the progress and impact that the bill is having on the rate of child poverty in California.
“By helping children grow up to be healthy, well-educated and contributing members of society, the legislation serves the best interests of California by creating a better future with less crime and a stronger economy,” Burke said in the press release.