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After adopting the Meeting Basic Human Needs position in 1988, the League reorganized the Social Policy program in 1990. This reorganization combined several existing positions to address the basic needs of all people for food, shelter, and access to health care and transportation. The Meeting Basic Human Needs position encompasses previous positions on income assistance and transportation. The issue of housing supply was separated from the fair housing position, still under Equality of Opportunity, and put under the Meeting Basic Human Needs position.
The 1970 Convention adopted a study of alternatives to welfare. As a result of the study, members agreed to support a system of federalized income assistance. The position, adopted in 1971, suggests criteria for such a system and for minimum uniform standards of eligibility for both cash benefits and supportive services (in-kind benefits). The position is closely linked with the Employment position in encouraging work and in emphasizing the responsibility of the federal government to help those who can’t find work, those whose earnings are insufficient to meet basic needs or those who are unable to work.
Adoption of the position coincided with a congressional effort to make major changes in the welfare system in 1971-72. The League mounted an all-out lobbying effort, despite recognized shortcomings in the legislation. In the late 1970s, the League attempted unsuccessfully to strengthen a number of federal welfare reform proposals. The League has supported a variety of specific programs for income assistance and in-kind benefits—food stamps, low-income energy assistance, child-care legislation, reform of unemployment compensation and Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs, and housing subsidies. Comprehensive child care remains an elusive but critically needed support service for women seeking employment. In each case the League has pressed for: uniform minimum federal standards of eligibility; uniform standards for benefits based on need; standards for quality of services.
The League has opposed cutoffs of Medicaid funding for abortion, on the basis of the supportive services provisions of the Income Assistance position and because such actions clearly discriminate against economically disadvantaged women.
In the 1980s, national League action on income assistance focused primarily on opposition to funding cutbacks, dilution of the federal role, and changes in eligibility requirements for income maintenance programs and support services.
In 1986-88, the League worked in support of welfare reform legislation in Congress, culminating in passage of the Family Support Act of 1988. The League had supported the House version, the Family Welfare Reform Act, which included provisions for education, training and employment of welfare recipients. The final bill followed the Senate version, the Family Security Act, which the League opposed. The League joined the national Coalition on Human Needs in opposing the final bill, citing inadequate funding and mandatory participation quotas. Since passage of the Act, states continue to face implementation decisions.
The League lobbied successfully in support of the Family and Medical Leave Act, designed to guarantee workers unpaid leave for illness or the birth or adoption of a child. Through the years, the League has supported the Earned Income Tax Credit as a necessary form of income assistance.
Other recent League efforts include lobbying Congress in 1991 and 1992 to pass the Mickey Leland Hunger Relief Act and the Freedom From Want Act, bills designed to alleviate hunger in the United States. In 1988-90, the LWVEF coordinated an 18-month Hunger Advocacy Project designed to help state and local Leagues develop and carry out model, targeted activities to document or alleviate hunger. A guide, Fighting Hunger in Your Community, provided information on replicating such activities.
In 1989-90, the LWVEF promoted discussion of a Ford Foundation report on social welfare, The Common Good. Three regional workshops were held on issues raised in the report, and local Leagues conducted related community education activities.
The League actively opposed welfare reform legislation proposed in the 104th Congress. During summer 1996, the White House and Congress agreed on legislation to essentially hand over welfare to the states. Despite the League’s strong lobbying effort with a particular focus on the President, the bill was passed and signed into law in August 1996. State Leagues across the country monitored the implementation and effects of “reform” efforts at the state level to ensure that the benefits were provided where needed and that recipients’ civil rights were protected.
In 1997, the League opposed congressional budget and appropriations provisions attempting to transfer responsibility for public assistance programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps from state governments to private for-profit corporations.
In fall 2005, the League responded to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, urging Congress to protect basic human needs of those affected by securing the basics —jobs, income when work is not available, health care, food, education, child care, and housing—while also protecting and expanding the capacity of the federal government to respond by preserving and increasing funding for vital services and not sapping revenues through misdirected tax cuts.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the League worked for a number of federal housing programs. In 1974, League support was channeled into aspects of the Housing and Community Development Act, which consolidated federal assistance under a block grant approach. The League fought against congressional action to weaken the Community Development Block Grant program through drastic cuts in the full range of authorized low- and moderate-income subsidies for both rehabilitation and new housing.
Throughout the 1980s, the League continued to support increased funding to add to and maintain the existing stock of federally assisted housing for very low-income persons. LWVUS efforts included working as a member of the National Low Income Housing Coalition to urge passage of 1987 legislation authorizing HUD’s low-income housing and community development programs, as well as endorsing the 1989 “Housing Now” march on Washington.
As a member of the Low Income Housing Coalition’s Women and Housing Task Force, the LWVUS endorsed a 1988 memorandum to the incoming Administration highlighting the housing problems facing women and making specific recommendations. In March 1990, the League endorsed a similar set of recommendations to Congress by the Women and Housing Task Force, predicated on the conviction that every person and family should have decent, safe and affordable housing. State and local Leagues have worked to increase the supply of low- and moderate-income housing through efforts to change zoning laws and to set up shared housing services.
In 2002, the LWVUS formally endorsed legislation to establish the National Housing Trust Fund, using surplus funds from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to create new housing for low-income families.
LWVUS concern about public transportation grew out of efforts on behalf of equal opportunity for employment and housing. The 1971 Air Quality position added another dimension to this concern by urging “measures to reduce vehicular pollution...and development of alternate transportation systems.” In 1972, the LWVUS Board responded to questions of interpretation by synthesizing the two positions into a unified Transportation position. In 1976, following League concurrence on the Energy Conservation position, the LWVUS Board reaffirmed the national League’s Transportation position. In 1979, the Urban Policy position reinforced the theme that federal aid for highway construction should be reduced; the Transportation position language was revised to make that point clear.
The League first put the position to work by backing a national coalition’s efforts to amend the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1972 to permit financing part of the costs of urban mass transit from highway trust funds. The League also supported the National Mass Transportation Assistance Act of 1974. Later the focus shifted to prevent stalling or cutting of federal assistance to mass transit systems.
In response to the urgency to improve and promote public transportation systems, the 1980 Convention voted to give greater emphasis to the Transportation position. In 1988, it was incorporated into the Meeting Basic Human Needs position. Leagues continue to use the Transportation position with their own local or ILO positions to back local and regional moves to improve mass transit and support other alternatives, such as express lanes for buses and carpools.
Statement of Position on Meeting Basic Human Needs, as Revised by the National Board, January 1989, based on positions reached from 1971 through 1988.
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that one of the goals of social policy in the United States should be to promote self-sufficiency for individuals and families and that the most effective social programs are those designed to prevent or reduce poverty.
Persons who are unable to work, whose earnings are inadequate or for whom jobs are not available have the right to an income and/or services sufficient to meet their basic needs for food, shelter and access to health care.
The federal government should set minimum, uniform standards and guidelines for social welfare programs and should bear primary responsibility for financing programs designed to help meet the basic needs of individuals and families. State and local governments, as well as the private sector, should have a secondary role in financing food, housing and health care programs. Income assistance programs should be financed primarily by the federal government with state governments assuming secondary responsibility.
In order to prevent or reduce poverty, the LWVUS supports policies and programs designed to: increase job opportunities; increase access to health insurance; provide support services such as child care and transportation; provide opportunities and/or incentives for basic or remedial education and job training; decrease teen pregnancy; ensure that noncustodial parents contribute to the support of their children.
The LWVUS believes that access to health care includes the following: preventive care, primary care, maternal and child health care, emergency care, catastrophic care, nursing home care and mental health care as well as access to substance abuse programs, health and sex education programs, and nutrition programs.
The LWVUS believes that energy-efficient and environmentally sound transportation systems should afford better access to housing and jobs and will continue to examine transportation policies in light of these goals.
The following considerations can be applied to programs and policies to provide a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family: