Hunger Action Network of New York State
For Release: January 17, 2011
For More Info: Mark Dunlea, 518 860-3725
Cuomo Needs to Join MLK in Fighting Poverty
Hunger Action Urges Cuomo to Support Welfare Grant Hike, Jobs, Minimum Wage
Hunger Action Network of NYS urged Governor Cuomo today to join Martin Luther King's final campaign - to end poverty.
Hunger Action urged Cuomo to, at a minimum, include the third year of the promised 10% annual increase in the welfare basic grant in his upcoming state budget. Prior to the recent grant hike, the basic grant had not been increased since 1990 by Governor Mario Cuomo.
The group also urged Cuomo to support a major job creation initiative for New York State, with strong hiring targets for low-income New Yorkers who have rates of unemployment far higher than the rest of the state. They are seeking a $4 million increase in the annual state funding for emergency food programs.
Hunger Action also urged Governor Cuomo to take action to raise the state minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. State Labor Law gives the Governor to raise the state minimum wage administratively. A petition to do so by low-income workers was filed with the State Labor Department during the Paterson administration and is still pending. Most states in the northeast have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 (Connecticut $8.25, Vermont $8.15, Massachusetts $8.00).
"While we have heard Governor Cuomo propose a cap of local property taxes, so far he has been silent about the issue of capping poverty. IN the midst of the greatest recession in seventy years, we need a Governor who is committed to combating the epidemic of poverty in New York," said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network.
Shortly before he was murdered, Dr. King had come to the conclusion that a guaranteed annual income was needed as the prime step to end poverty in our country. "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."
Surprisingly, this was actually proposed a number of years later by President Nixon as a replacement for welfare, but Congress rejected it.
When he was killed in Memphis supporting the striking garbage workers, King was organizing a massive march in DC to launch a new campaign to end poverty. King had adopted a multi-racial approach to ending poverty. "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out," King wrote in 1967. "There are twice as many white poor as [black] poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and [black] alike."
The last major speech Dr. King delivered, four days before his assassination, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" was on poverty at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. .
King talked about how the poor were invisible in America, a "kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don't see the poor." King spoke of how a rich man in the Old Testament was sent to hell not because he was rich but because "he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible… (B)ecause he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty."
"There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will," added King.
King promised that today to come back to DC in a few months for a rally against poverty. "It will be a Poor People's Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor."
"One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we've done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies...It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, 'That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me."
King ended his speech that day with a call for America to end the Vietnam War, a call for a peace dividend. "Every time we kill (a Vietcong soldier) we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty."
Hunger Action is urging Cuomo and state lawmakers to pass a resolution calling for Congress to cut the military budget to free up funds to provide fiscal relief to state and local governments, and fund jobs and other vital domestic needs.