Obama breaks silence on child poverty


On Sept. 4, leaders from six organizations focused on poverty — particularly on child poverty — sent President Obama and Mitt Romney a letter, asking each man to “please clarify your position with respect to meeting the needs of the 22 percent of America’s children who are living in poverty.” They asked the candidates to reply by Sept. 14. They got no response.

Christine Murphy of the Romney campaign got back to the signatories on the evening of Sept. 25. “Unfortunately we will be unable to provide a formal written response to this letter,” she said in an e-mail. “If there is still interest in holding a meeting, either in person or by phone, let me know and we can make the appropriate arrangements.”

Poverty went missing at the Denver debate two weeks ago. It very well may go missing at tonight’s town hall forum-style debate on Long Island. But the silence from the Obama campaign on the issue ended when a detailed response arrived Saturday.

The letter, signed by Geoff Canada, Bruce Lesley, Michael Pettit, Irwin Redlener, Bill Shore and Mark K. Shriver, had asked the candidates three questions.

1. What are your plans to ensure that (a) comprehensive health care, (b) quality educational opportunity beginning with appropriate pre-school programs, and (c) food security are available for all at-risk, vulnerable children?

2. What will you pledge to do in your first 100 days to address childhood poverty?

3. What is your long-term vision for how to permanently ensure that future generations of children will not have to face the specter of crushing poverty?

I’ve attached a link to the president’s response, in which you’ll notice that Obama’s plans for a second term are mostly a continuation of what he started in the current term. The Affordable Care Act, continuing investments in early education and improving schools are part of the agenda. He even cites the federal Promise Neighborhoods program, modeled after Canada’s organization Harlem Children’s Zone, which puts the school at the forefront of tackling poverty.

There is some unfinished business among Obama’s plans. Getting the stalled American Jobs Act, which he says “will accelerate the recovery and create nearly 1 million jobs,” passed is a priority. So is preventing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year. All of this can be found in the president’s campaign stump speech. But that doesn’t mean Obama’s response should be discounted. Quite the contrary; at least he has a substantive response.

“This is the first time in this campaign that either candidate has specifically addressed how to combat child poverty this campaign,” said Redlener of the Children’s Health Fund. Noting that Romney declined to answer, Redlener continued, “Whoever prevails in November, there is no escaping the fact that investing in children is essential to the economic well-being of the U.S.”

Mark Shriver of Save the Children was more blunt. “For far too long, our political leaders have said that children are our most important esource and they have failed to put [our] own tax dollars where their mouths are,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If voters really do care at all about poor kids then they should look at these responses and study both candidates’ budget proposals to determine who is helping poor kids and their families — or not.”

With his Saturday response, the president made that task a bit easier.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.

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