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Federal Appointees Threaten to Undermine the Fight Against Poverty

Statement From The Sargeant Shriver National Center On Poverty Law

Contact: Michelle Nicolet, Marketing Director

Fifty-three years ago this week, on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, announced a War on Poverty. Leading the effort, our founder, Sargent Shriver, created a set of landmark programs and tools for upward mobility: Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Community Action Program, and Legal Services for the Poor. The passage of the Civil Rights Act and related civil rights laws further ensured that access to opportunity would not be denied based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. And Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps were among key measures that, by the end of the decade, produced a reduction in the country’s poverty rate from 19 to 11 percent. These programs continue to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty every year.

Nevertheless, more than 43 million Americans still live below the federal poverty line. Poverty continues to hit people of color the hardest, and 1 in 5 of our country’s children are born into its grips. Millions more working families are just a paycheck or medical emergency away from falling into economic despair. Poverty matters to our entire nation, because it threatens our shared future and collective prosperity.

We need leaders who understand and value the role of public policies and programs in supporting, rewarding, and sustaining upward mobility. We need leaders who will fight for and implement public budgets that make those investments. We need leaders who will champion economic and racial justice.

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law opposes the following appointments for leadership of key federal agencies in the Trump Administration. From what the public record reveals of their individual actions, positions, and statements, they all would oppose or dramatically weaken the critical programs and policies that ensure justice and opportunity for people living in poverty.

Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. As Attorney General, Sessions would be the chief enforcer of the nation’s civil rights laws. His opposition to vigorous civil rights enforcement and continuing support for discredited “tough-on-crime” measures—which have helped give rise to mass incarceration and fundamentally disrupted whole communities, especially communities of color—make him unfit for this position.

Department of Education, Betsy DeVos. Equal access to a quality public education is constitutionally guaranteed and is an important pathway to upward mobility. DeVos’s zealous enthusiasm for the privatization of public education through vouchers, for-profit charters and other schemes, raises serious questions about her support for public education and the role of public schools in communities.

Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. HHS is home to some of our country’s most critical poverty-fighting programs, including the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Medicare. In his tenure as a lawmaker, Price has waged attacks on these programs that would threaten their very existence, strip tens of millions of people of healthcare, and send our nation’s healthcare system into chaos. Price has proven himself uncommitted to the mission of HHS.

Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson. From enforcing civil rights laws in housing to ensuring safe, stable housing for women, children, and families, HUD oversees a fundamental anti-poverty agenda focused on a powerful tool for upward mobility—residential integration. Carson’s lack of knowledge and experience in these areas, his labeling of integration efforts as “social engineering,” and his espousal of deep cuts to and other aggressive attacks on these programs make him a problematic nominee.

Department of Labor, Andrew F. Puzder. Across the country, momentum is growing for workplace protections, livable wages, and increased employment opportunities, particularly for people with low income. Puzder, is the CEO of chains of fast-food restaurants and has long opposed the types of supports and policies that are vital for working families. He would threaten to halt this progress. 

Each of these nominees would present a grave threat to important poverty-fighting programs in the departments they would oversee. Together, they would represent a troubling, overarching policy of abandoning—or even actively thwarting—a fair chance for upward mobility for people in poverty.   

We are deeply troubled by the nominees listed above, as well as other leadership put forth by the incoming Administration. We do not oppose nominations based on politics. Our opposition is based on values. Our values match what we believe to be the best strand of American values: that everyone in this country is entitled to a meaningful voice and free expression, a guarantee of safety from arbitrary government repression, and a basic equality of opportunity free from invidious discrimination. We believe that everyone benefits when we all receive and can depend on these guarantees. We urge President-elect Trump to rethink these nominations and that Congress not confirm them.  

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. We specialize in practical solutions. We advocate for and serve clients directly, while also building the capacity of the nation’s legal aid providers to advance justice and opportunity for their clients. Learn more at and read our latest insights on The Shriver Brief.

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