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Fight poverty, not the poor
Guest column

Fight poverty, not the poor

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The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has organized in Montana to reduce the pain and ease the suffering of the nearly 40% of Montanans who live in poverty or are low wage earners. We are a fusion movement of every race, class, gender, political party, spirituality or religion. While each of us has a moral responsibility to heal the divisions in our communities, we must stop the injustice of blaming the victims of systemic poverty, racism, environmental degradation, the war economy and religious nationalism.

While the national government uses an outdated definition of poverty, an accurate number explains why many Montanans are unaware that our wages are so low, that poverty and low wages affect more than 39% of our citizens (more than 410,000 people). Unfortunately, some elected officials use the language of blame, rather than leading the way out of this inhumanity by listening to the voices and stories from the people suffering in the midst of enormous economic disparity. This includes more than 50,000 of those in our Indian communities in Montana, which are suffering from poverty levels that are above and beyond these numbers. Poverty and low wages affect the lives of 47% of our children (107,000), 40% of our women (207,000), 62% of our Black people (3,000), 47% of our Latinx (15,000) and 37% of our white citizens (340,000).

Now, our Montana Legislature is considering bills that will only increase the pain and the suffering of those most in need in our state, particularly Senate Bill 100 and cuts to health services at a time of a devastating pandemic.

In a Christian faith community, we hear stories of the leader Jesus, the peasant from Nazareth, who spoke in his first public sermon, quoting the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus claims: “I have come to bring good news to the poor.” The word poor he uses resonates with the person, community, who is made poor by outside forces. That is today’s America. The sermon of Jesus speaks to us across religion, politics or standing of caste. It confronts the narrative 2,000 years ago that God hates poverty, not the poor.

While national leaders consider phasing in a $15 minimum wage over several years, we are embarrassed by Montana’s standing as the 46th lowest in wages, paying our hard-working individuals less than most of America. In our state, with the current minimum wage, it takes 75 hours of work per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. A true minimum living wage for a family in our state would be $25 per hour. The Montana Poor People’s Campaign insists on the values from faith and public tradition to ensure that people have a means to a solid foundation for their families.

At the beginning of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded a “revolution of values.” We value hard work and decent pay. This begins with a living wage, and an ability to standardize a living wage from year to year. It is also a means to protect the public service programs to support those working to survive or transition out of poverty.

Currently, our Montana Legislature is considering SB 100. This misleading bill will directly harm those most in need of public services in our state. It will negatively affect the more than 400,000 Montanans who are fighting for their own survival for their families, and it will weaken health services for all Montanans at a time when we need them most. Say "no" to SB 100, and join us to end the injustices that harm our state’s most vulnerable.

David Rommereim of Whitefish is a retired Lutheran minister and writes on behalf of the Montana Poor People's Campaign Steering Committee.

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