Fifty years after Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in his State of the Union address, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declared the war lost.
“Five decades and trillions of dollars after President Johnson waged his War on Poverty, the results of this big-government approach are in,” he said. “We have four million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more.”
Rubio added that “economic, social, cultural and educational changes and challenges” have caused poverty to get worse and that the federal government was not equipped to fix it.
Rubio, a potential 2016 contender for the GOP nomination, is one of several top Republicans who have been speaking publicly about poverty in recent days and offering alternative proposals to help middle-class and low-income Americans. The efforts come as an extension of long-term unemployment benefits is being debated in Congress and Democrats attempt to paint Republicans as out of touch with the hardships suffered by lower-income Americans.
Among the changes to the system Rubio proposed was a plan to consolidate federal funding for anti-poverty programs into the one agency and give those funds to the states. The key to addressing poverty, Rubio emphasized in his high-profile speech, is decentralizing.
“These Flex Funds would be transferred to the states so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity” closer to home, Rubio said.
Rubio said his staff was still working through the details of what would be a part of the “Flex Funds” but said programs like food stamps could potentially be included.
He also said he would introduce legislation to replace the earned income tax credit with a “federal wage enhancement for qualifying low-wage jobs.”
Rubio said the federal wage enhancement could serve as a supplement to a lower paying job and deter low-income workers from turning to unemployment insurance to make ends meet.
On Tuesday, Rubio joined 37 Republicans in voting against continuing debate on the extension of unemployment insurance.
“It would also be a preferable means of distributing benefits since it would arrive in sync with a monthly or bi-weekly paycheck rather than a year-end lump-sum credit,” he said. “And it’s a better way of supporting low-income workers than simply raising the minimum wage.”
Rubio also took aim at Democratic priorities to raise the minimum wage, calling the proposals a “partial solution.”
“Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American Dream,” he said.