Fifty years ago this week, in his State of the Union address to the nation, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a new "War on Poverty." The legislation he proposed and was ultimately passed by Congress made reducing poverty a national priority. As a result, there are far fewer Americans living in poverty today than in 1964.
Some of the key safety net programs the Maryland Department of Human Resources administers today were created as part of that war, including SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid. According to a November report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, government benefits lifted 41 million people out of poverty in 2012. Without these important safety net programs, the poverty rate would be much higher than it is today.
Maryland's poverty rate, while still too high, is the second lowest in nation and more than a third below the national rate. As we've learned, there is no effective "one-size-fits-all" approach to ending poverty. At DHR, we've worked hard to move from a culture that sees things as "black" or "white" to one that embraces the differences in people and finds ways to tailor our approach to meet their needs. In order to do our job well, we have to take an approach that is flexible enough to serve everyone.
During the O'Malley-Brown administration, this approach has helped more than 75,000 individuals move toward self-sufficiency by finding work and leaving welfare. For each of the last two years, we set a new state record for job placements at DHR. Even better, the starting wage for more than 37 percent of these jobs was $10 an hour or more. Overall, the number of work-eligible individuals receiving temporary cash assistance (TCA) in Maryland has decreased 25 percent since the peak of the Great Recession in 2010.
We've also made significant progress on Gov. Martin O'Malley's goal of ending childhood hunger. We've increased SNAP enrollment more than 176 percent. By enrolling more eligible families, there are 181,000 fewer children going hungry in Maryland.
Fifty years later, there are still far too many households struggling with poverty. But the War on Poverty is a fight worth having, and DHR is committed to aggressively pursuing all opportunities to assist people in economic need.
Ted Dallas, Baltimore
The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
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