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Sanders Spearheads Call to Defeat Economic System That 'Deliberately' Creates 'Massive' Poverty in US

The lawmakers emphasize "our sacred responsibility to provide a safety net for those in need."

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A man walks through an impoverished area of Worcester, Massachusetts on March 20, 2018. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A group of Democratic lawmakers—led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.)—is demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action to address deep poverty in the United States following the recent release of a U.N. report that details "massive levels of deprivation" and "the intense suffering this deprivation causes."

"We urge the administration to present Congress with a plan to enact the recommendations made in this report to address appalling rates of child poverty, destructive economic policies that benefit the wealthy over the working poor, criminalization of the poor, and lack of access to basic necessaties in rural and underserved communities."
—20 members of Congress

Framing the report—which examines how the administration and Republican-controlled Congress are "deliberately" waging war on the nation's poor while lavishing the rich with massive tax cuts—as a "call to action we must heed," the lawmakers sent a letter (pdf) to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley imploring her to share its findings with President Donald Trump.

"Inequality is a severe threat to human rights, and while these problems have been decades in the making, this administration is making things worse," the letter states, pointing to the tax legislation Trump signed last December. "These rights include not only the right to education, healthcare, and an adequate standard of living, but demonstrate our sacred responsibility to provide a safety net for those in need."

The report, as the letter notes, outlines how issues such as "persistant discrimination, counterproductive drug policies, abhorrent access to sanitary water and wastewater, environmental pollution, and voter disenfranchisement" both result from and fuel poverty. It also "shines a light on this country's discriminatory treatment of communities of color, indigenous populations, women, children, people with disabilities, and citizens living in U.S. territories."

Resolving that the report indicates a need for a notable shift in federal policy, the letter declares, "we urge the administration to present Congress with a plan to enact the recommendations made in this report to address appalling rates of child poverty, destructive economic policies that benefit the wealthy over the working poor, criminalization of the poor, and lack of access to basic necessaties in rural and underserved communities."

The ACLU praised the letter, highlighting the U.N. and lawmakers' shared conclusion that the nation's issues with poverty and inequality far exceed those of peer nations.

"From Alabama, where failing wastewater systems have created a health crisis, to the desperate conditions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to deep poverty in West Virginia—Americans are suffering. The good news is, these are problems we can address," the letter to Haley concludes. "We stand ready to work with you on such a plan."

The report and letter come as anti-poverty campaigners and religious leaders continue to mobilize around a new Poor People's Campaign with organized events in the nation's capital and in communities across the country.

In addition to Sanders and Sewell, the letter's signatories include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) as well as Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), John Lewis (Ga.), Yvette D. Clarke (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), James P. McGovern (Mass.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Danny K. Davis (Ill.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Frederica S. Wilson (Fla.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.).

This post has been updated to reflect that Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) led the effort in the House.

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