Now, a top human rights investigator is criticizing the United States for failing the poor.
Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has spent the past several months visiting impoverished communities across the United States. In one visit to Alabama, he met a family struggling to maintain their home on an income of $958 a month.
On the day of his visit, he said, sewage was visible inches from the family's house — a reflection of their county's failing infrastructure — and mildew and mold were growing inside. Alston said he had never seen sewage problems like it in the developed world.
"There is a human right for people to live decently," he said at the time, according to AL.com, an Alabama news outlet.
Alston, a New York University law professor, also paid visits to slum areas in downtown Los Angeles and Puerto Rico.
Now, ahead of a presentation to the U.N. later this month, he is criticizing the Trump administration for gutting the United States' safety net by slashing welfare benefits and access to health insurance.
"If food stamps and access to Medicaid are removed, and housing subsidies cut, then the effect on people living on the margins will be drastic," he told the Guardian, saying the loss of those protections would lead to "severe deprivation."
Alston also lambasted the administration over its recent tax cut, saying that legislation will offer "financial windfalls" to the rich and large corporations, leading to even more inequality.
The government should think harder about how to help those in need rather than "punishing and imprisoning the poor," he said.
"The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned, rather than a right of citizenship," Alston said.
About 41 million Americans live in poverty, according to government data, about 12.7 percent of the population. One in three of those are children. The United States has one of the highest youth poverty rates in the developed world.
Critics of Alston point out that those statistics are from 2016, before Trump took office. On Twitter, Alston explained his reasoning this way:
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. A U.S. official in Geneva disputed Alston's claims, saying that "the Trump Administration has made it a priority to provide economic opportunity for all Americans.”