Address persisting poverty

This March 21, 1965 file photo shows Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., heading for the capitol in Montgomery. (AP Photo/File)

One of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s great books was entitled, “Where do we go from here, Chaos or Community?” Today, 50 years after Selma, that question is still in need of an answer.

One area in need of attention is persistent poverty, and I want to thank President Obama for proposing a budget that equalizes the tax code and, if substantially enacted, will move us closer to what Dr. King often referred to as the “Beloved Community.”

Statistics show that there are nearly 500 counties and thousands of communities in the United States that the Census Bureau has classified as persistent poverty areas. They are so defined because 20 percent of their populations have lived below the poverty line for the past 30 years or more.

These communities are diverse and bipartisan. They include Caucasian communities in states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee; Native American communities in states like South Dakota, Alaska and Oklahoma; Latino communities in states like Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; African American communities in states like South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. Over two thirds of them are represented by Republicans and nearly one-third are represented by Democrats. Several of them are split between both parties.

In early 2009, as we were putting together the Recovery Act, I proposed language to require at least 10 percent of funds in three rural development accounts to be directed to efforts in these persistent poverty counties. This requirement was enacted into law. In light of the definition of persistent poverty counties as having at least 20 percent poverty rates over 30 years, this provision became known as the 10-20-30 initiative.

Using the 10-20-30 formula the Recovery Act funded a total of 4,655 projects in persistent poverty counties, totaling nearly $1.7 billion.

I saw firsthand the positive effects of these projects in my district; we were able to undertake projects and create jobs that would have otherwise languished. Among these investments were a $5.8 million grant and a $2 million loan to construct 51 miles of water lines in the little community of Britton’s Neck in Marion County, South Carolina.

There are many other success stories.

In Lowndes County, Mississippi, $17.5 million was spent to install a water line, elevated tank, and two wastewater pump stations, providing potable water to rural Mississippians and creating badly needed construction jobs.

I want to make one thing clear about the 10-20-30 approach. It does not add one dime to the deficit. It simply targets resources from funds already authorized or appropriated.

Over the past 30 years, the national economy has risen and fallen multiple times.

During each economic downturn, while we have been rightly focused on getting the economy as a whole back on track, we have not given adequate attention to these communities that are suffering from chronic distress and Depression-era levels of joblessness.

These communities suffer even in good economic times. The 10-20-30 approach would provide a mechanism to equitably address this deprivation.

Last year, the Harvard Journal on Legislation published my essay on 10-20-30.

It fully lays out the case for broadly implementing 10-20-30 in a bipartisan fashion.

As we begin work on the 2016 budget, I look forward to working with my colleagues to eliminate the scourge of persistent poverty in these distressed communities.

It would honor the legacy of Selma, further Dr. King’s dream of a “Beloved Community,” and continue our “pursuit of a more perfect Union.”

James E. Clyburn, a Democrat, represents South Carolina’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.