Poverty Scorecard
Rating members of congress

Congressional Action on Poverty in 2014

It is the promise of the American Dream that, through hard work and tenacity, one can achieve economic stability and even upward social mobility. Yet actual experience no longer bears this out. Too many Americans struggle to keep food on the table throughout the month, and many more, focused on stretching their incomes to meet immediate needs, lack the resources to invest in a home or plan for a secure and dignified retirement.

Forty-five million Americans live in poverty; millions more are only one paycheck away from joining them. Women, people of color, and young working adults disproportionately face the stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck. For women and people of color, these trends reflect histories of discrimination that current policies fail to eliminate. While quality jobs offer a path out of poverty for some, a growing percentage of work offers only low wages and a constantly shifting work schedule, with little opportunity for skill building and promotion. Increased reliance on low-wage work, in combination with increased costs of living for everything from health care to housing, pulls Americans down and shrinks the middle class.

Paradoxically, as in past years, states with a high poverty rate were more likely to have a Congressional delegation with a poor score on poverty-related legislation, while states with a low poverty rate were more likely to have a delegation with a high score. These tables illustrate the relationships between a state’s poverty rate and its Congressional delegation’s voting record.

Congressional delegations with high poverty rates and poor voting records
State Poverty rate Poverty rank Vote score* Vote rank
South Carolina 18.6% 9th 29% 46th
Kentucky 18.8% 6th 36% 42nd
Louisiana 19.8% 3rd 42% 36th
Arkansas 19.7% 4th 42% 38th
Tennessee 17.8% 12th 37% 40th
Georgia 19% 5th 41% 39th
Alabama 18.7% 7th 31% 45th
Congressional delegations with high poverty rates and good voting records
State Poverty rate Poverty rank Vote score* Vote rank
New Mexico 21.9% 2nd 84% 10th
New York 16% 20th 78% 12th
California 16.8% 16th 74% 13th
West Virginia 18.5% 10th 63% 19th
Oregon 16.7% 18th 85% 8th
Congressional delegations with low poverty rates and good voting records
State Poverty rate Poverty rank Vote score* Vote rank
Vermont 12.3% 39th 98% 2nd
Maryland 10.1% 48th 86% 7th
New Hampshire 8.7% 50th 82.5% 11th
Connecticut 10.7% 47th 89% 5th
Massachusetts 11.9% 40th 90% 4th
Hawaii 10.8% 46th 96% 3rd
Delaware 12.4% 38th 100% 1st

*“Vote score” and †“Vote rank” represent a state delegation's aggregate voting score, and national ranking, respectively.

Laws passed by Congress each year have a profound effect on people living in poverty, as does proposed legislation that does not become law. Congressional action directly affects whether low-income people’s basic needs will be met and whether they will have an opportunity to work and/or go to school and climb the ladder out of poverty.

For example, Congress took votes this year on three different programs that help meet the basic needs of millions of Americans—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamps), which helps 46 million Americans put healthy food on their tables; the Section 8 housing program, which provides housing subsidies for 5 million Americans; and the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 12 million in 2014 alone.

Each year, the Shriver Center’s Poverty Scorecard identifies the most important poverty-related votes taken by Congress and then compiles a record of how each of your Senators and Representatives voted. In choosing which votes to use, we consult with national experts in more than twenty different issue areas. This helps us to identify the full scope of the votes most important to poor people and ensure that the Poverty Scorecard fully reflects Congressional action (and inaction) in addressing the complex needs of low-income Americans. The Poverty Scorecard provides a comprehensive look at how each individual Member of Congress voted on poverty as well as a benchmark for Congress’ overall efforts.

Congress’ most significant anti-poverty accomplishment in 2014 was to enact two comprehensive pieces of legislation that provide essential support to people in poverty seeking upward mobility. Both bills, which passed almost unanimously, were the product of years of bi-cameral , bipartisan work and a good model for Congress to follow in other areas. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which reauthorized existing programs, both included important provisions that will make these programs more responsive to the needs of people in poverty. Congress also reauthorized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps).

Unfortunately, though, Congress, especially the House of Representatives, sought to advance legislation in 2014 that would have made the lives of people living in poverty worse. These included attacks on anti-discrimination laws, key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, immigrants, and consumer protections.

Congress also rejected important legislation that would have made the lives of people in poverty better. These included missed opportunities to advance equal pay laws for women, raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits, protect workers from wage theft, and improve college accessibility.

Two frontal assaults on poor people, legislation that would have eliminated legal services and cut $3 billion from the Section 8 housing program, were rejected by the House of Representatives.

Members of Congress have the opportunity to act as agents of change by writing legislation and casting their votes to reduce poverty in America. With a mixed overall performance on poverty by Congress, moving forward on work and school support programs but otherwise stagnating, how did your Senator and Representative vote? If they are not living up to your expectations, hold them accountable.