Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just unveiled another ambitious policy package — this one geared toward lifting more Americans out of poverty — at a time when other buzzy proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are becoming something of a litmus test for progressive 2020 Democrats.
"One of the things that we can get done is build popular support in acknowledging how bad the problem already is. In doing so, we can actually begin to fundamentally address those problems," the 29-year-old freshman Democrat from New York told NPR before the package was officially revealed Wednesday. Ocasio-Cortez, a bogeyman of the right, has introduced or endorsed many of the policies that are now key to progressive candidates’ platforms.
AOC’s new six-bill proposal, dubbed “A Just Society,” would first update the way in which the U.S. calculates poverty and determines eligibility for welfare — an equation that currently shuts out many struggling Americans. Right now, a single person is considered poor in the U.S. if they make less than $12,500 a year. In some instances, making more than that amount means losing out on programs like Medicaid.
Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal would take that old equation and factor in things like a person’s geographic cost of living, what portion of their income they spend on health insurance or child care, and spending toward utilities like internet access those inclusions would raise the federal poverty level and widen Americans’ eligibility to welfare programs.
The rest of the policy bundle includes proposals that would then lift Americans out of poverty by expanding welfare access, or by offering worker and rental protections that keep people from being exploited. It’d cap rent increases, increase access to Medicaid, the government’s health care program for the poor,
Here’s what else the “Just Society” package includes:
One bill would cap annual rent increases at 3 percent, while also widening tenants’ rights to prevent unjust evictions. The bill would also create grants to fund legal representation for low-income tenants, too — a policy that has already led to fewer evictions in some cities. It’d also prevent landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on where they get their income.
New legislation would decrease highway funding to jurisdictions that don’t support equitable housing developments as a means to influence changes on restrictive local zoning laws.
Two bills would keep the government from denying welfare benefits to Americans based on their either past criminal history or their immigration status.
One bill, the Uplift Workers Act, would create a new “worker-friendliness score” for federal contractors so the U.S. can avoid funding jobs that don’t offer paid overtime for those who work more than 40 hours per week, a living wage, or paid leave.
The plan also asks the U.S. to join the 170 nations that have already agreed to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a United Nations treaty.
Right now, Americans are facing staggering wealth inequality, sluggish wage growth, and a rising cost of living thanks to increased rents and health-care costs. Yet, in part because the U.S. poverty rate has ticked down slightly, critical welfare programs from Medicaid, to affordable housing, to food assistance, have faced severe cuts from the Trump administration. Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. live in poverty.
Of course, these proposals, much like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All bills, face an unlikely future in Congress. The Senate is controlled by Republicans, and moderate Democrats have stonewalled progressive legislation in the House. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once referred to the Green New Deal as the “green dream,” and has said Medicare for All is untenable.)
But, also much like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All bills, 2020 candidates will be forced to choose whether they’re with progressive Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez, or comfortable with a more moderate image.
Cover: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, September 10, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)