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As part of the series “A Rooseveltian Second-Term Agenda,” suggestions for how President Obama can get serious about combating poverty.

Hurricane Sandy’s violence was a tragic reminder of some important truths in American life: climate change matters, government matters, and caring for the vulnerable—those severely afflicted by circumstances beyond their control —not only matters, it is the essence of who we are as a people. Today, our country’s vulnerable include the 46 million people—nearly 1 in 6—who live in poverty, and 16 million of those are children. This deprivation is particularly grievous in context: earnings for the wealthiest continued to grow last year, while income for the rest stagnated or fell. These levels of poverty and inequality are not only unconscionable, they threaten our economic security.  When it comes to fighting poverty, what do we make of the Obama team’s record and, more importantly, what should be its priorities for the next four years?

The Poverty of the Debate on Poverty

Poverty’s notable absence during the campaign season disappointed and galvanized many progressives who hoped to insert the issue into the election platform and political debates. Those concerns echoed earlier remonstrations that the president had failed to address poverty over the last four years with the passion or federal muscle promised in his 2008 campaign. “Barack Obama can barely bring himself to say the word ‘poor,’ Bob Herbert wrote this spring in The Grio. Paul Tough, Herbert’s public conscience heir at The New York Times, explains the political conundrum behind the administration’s focus on the economic woes of a broader set of struggling Americans rather than on the poorest per se: “how do you persuade voters to devote tax dollars to help the truly disadvantaged when the middle class is feeling disadvantaged itself?”

While we may long for the soaring rhetoric of 2008, the fact is these broad-based policies have worked. They have not eradicated poverty, but many important domestic programs—the stimulus, in particular, which included new and expanded tax credits, enhanced unemployment insurance, and increased eligibility for food stamps—kept an estimated seven million out of poverty and cushioned against even greater hardship for more than 30 million people already below the federal threshold. Not to mention that health care reform extended coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans (in part by expanding access to Medicaid). The federal poverty measure does not take into account non-cash transfers, including food stamps, housing subsidies, and health care benefits like Medicare and Medicaid. When these are factored in, it appears as though poverty has not increased under Obama’s tenure.

Pivot from Defense to Offense

When it comes to a new kind of war on poverty, the Obama administration must recognize that it now has the freedom—and, arguably, an electoral mandate—to address need in this country in ways that serve the struggling middle class and target programs and policies to help the poor. This is not an either/or proposition. And of course job creation is the primary lever: there is no better way to help all Americans in the next four years and beyond.

In terms of programs to address persistent poverty, however, Obama’s second-term agenda must pivot from defense to offense, graduating from “could have been worse” blood staunching to an even greater commitment both to long-term investments in human capital and interim supports that shield children and families from some of the most severe privations of life in poverty.  Here are three places to begin:

(1)  Redouble investment in comprehensive and community-wide approaches to fighting poverty. Tough laments that, while in 2008 Obama called for “billions” for programs like Promise Neighborhoods that are modeled on Harlem Children’s Zone’s and provide a broad swath of interventions for poor children and their families, the administration to date has spent just $100 million on pilot programs in 37 communities across 18 states. Ongoing and expanded support for these kinds of holistic programs in cities across the country would make for a sound investment in human potential, using federal structure and funds to support local and community generated solutions.

(2)  Commit more fully to investments in high-quality early childhood education and childcare, which yield substantial returns in the school success and life prospects of low-income children and their working parents. This means expanded tax credits and other financial supports for families paying for childcare. It also means increased funds for proven programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, particularly when state governments across the country, with budgets in crises, have been forced to cut Pre-K programs. Head Start and Early Head Start are chronically underfunded and therefore do not reach many eligible families.

(3)  Reform welfare reform, so that it provides real “safety” for poor families in tough economic times. Although it has long been touted as a success of the Clinton administration, the 1996 welfare reform, which devolved much of TANF to the states and linked cash assistance to stringent work requirements, was structurally flawed. First, it was not indexed for inflation (and is funded at its 1996 level). Second, as a block grant it leaves poor people dependent on (now) cash-strapped states for support. Third, the original work requirements were predicated on the existence of work, not on the stubbornly high unemployment rates of this recession. The federal government must reclaim a greater role in the redesign and provision of temporary assistance for needy families to help keep them out of extreme poverty in the way it has done with other critical strands of the safety net like food stamps and unemployment insurance.

With this second term, the Obama administration has the chance to broaden opportunity and to make vital advances in the fight against poverty.

Georgia Levenson Keohane is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Cross-posted from The Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden

If you were a Trump supporter anticipating a ruinous assault on Joe Biden's integrity during that final debate, too bad. What you got instead was a series of incomprehensible outbursts from Donald Trump, who seems to assume that everybody believes whatever nonsense they hear on Fox News, just like he does.

The day after the debate was even more disappointing. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch himself, dropped a front-page investigative report that directly contradicted Trump's accusations about Biden and China. The only candidate with unseemly business over there is Trump himself, whose secret account in a Chinese bank was just exposed.

For months, Trump and his minions have hyped allegations of financial corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump got himself impeached, with the help of legal genius Rudy Giuliani, over his attempt to force Ukraine's president to open a fake corruption probe of the former vice president and Burisma, the energy firm that once employed Biden's son Hunter. Their deception collapsed when Trump and Obama administration officials testified – with ample documentary evidence – that Biden had done nothing to protect Burisma and only carried out United States and European initiatives against corruption in Ukraine.

But that failure didn't discourage Giuliani, former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, or the other fabricators in the Trump entourage. In recent days, they have unveiled a mysterious laptop computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden and reached Giuliani and then the New York Post through a series of implausible events. There are clues that the electronic data on the laptop was invented or altered. Who might do that? Let's see: The Kremlin is seeking to harm Biden politically, and Giuliani has openly welcomed the assistance of Russian intelligence assets, so the answer is fairly obvious. Especially because Russian agents provided similar services for the Republican candidate four years ago.

When the laptop gambit flopped, the Trumpsters still didn't give up.

On the eve of the debate, a Wall Street Journal columnist published a claim that Joe Biden personally profited from investments in China fronted by Hunter. Her column was based on assertions by a shadowy but euphoniously named businessman, a certain Tony Bobulinski. In a move worthy of that old pardoned felon Roger Stone, Bobulinski actually attended the Nashville debate (after staging a "press availability" where he refused to answer any questions.)

Unfortunately for both Bobulinski and that eager Journal columnist, her newspaper on Friday published the investigation that cratered their nefarious tale. After months of actual reporting, the Journal's real journalists found that the venture cited by Bobulinski "never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals." Moreover, corporate records reviewed by the Journal's reporters "show no role for Joe Biden."

So far the Biden "scandal" most closely resembles Whitewater and the entire panoply of Clinton finance scandals that never revealed any wrongdoing whatsoever. Whatever Trump may spew and sputter, there is no plausible evidence that has been subjected to examination by journalists of integrity.

And fortunately for Biden, the nation's traditional news outlets are approaching the allegations against him with a cool and appropriate skepticism. That wasn't the case in 2016, the last time Steve Bannon played the same games. For Bannon and Giuliani, as well as their echoes across right-wing media, the objective was always to launch their false narratives into the mainstream. They succeeded brilliantly in 2016, with the assistance of the New York Times and other news organizations that should have known better and done better. This time they are failing.

In promoting these serial smears, the risk for Donald Trump is always that someone competent will inspect his record. That's what should have happened four years ago, when he and Bannon falsely attacked the Clinton Foundation while concealing the sordid truth about the Trump Foundation, a brazen criminal enterprise.

That 2016 frameup was a classic instance of projection – and we can assume the same dynamic is at work today. So now is the time to scrutinize all of the Trump Organization's crooked, conflicted deals overseas – and how he and his family have profited from his presidency.