AOC Announces “A Just Society,” Her Ambitious Anti-Poverty Initiative

AOC Feature

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has just revealed her latest package of progressive bills, bundled together in an initiative she has dubbed a “Just Society.” A Just Society is an economic sibling of sorts to her Green New Deal, but instead of tackling the existential issue of climate change, the set of proposals addresses modern day issues of poverty and economic inequality, including bills that would update how the government defines poverty itself. 

Defining poverty in a meaningful way is the first step in being able to draft effective legislation. “If we can acknowledge how many Americans are actually in poverty I think that we can start to address some of the more systemic issues in our economy,” she explained to NPR in an interview.

For one thing, AOC’s proposed legislation sets out to define poverty relative to where a person lives; right now, no matter whether you live in San Francisco with a high cost of living or in a small town in Kansas where life is much more affordable, the Federal Poverty Level for an individual is the same. Defining poverty in accordance with a more localized cost of living is key to making sure that people who need it can apply for financial assistance for things like health insurance. Poverty will also take into account the cost of essential needs like childcare and access to the Internet, not just basic elements of literal survival like groceries.

Beyond shifting our understanding of poverty, the Just Society proposals will also integrate legislation that keeps rental housing affordable, includes measures that protect formerly incarcerated people and undocumented immigrants from being treated as secondhand citizens in terms of their access to federal benefits. 

Again, with a Just Society AOC is drawing upon the history of American politics to frame what is undeniably a game-changing proposal, perhaps as a way to head off criticism that her proposals are too radical or idealistic; hearkening back to LBJ’s Great Society speech, naming this package of bills a Just Society is a way for her to suggest or remind us that we’ve done this sort of thing before and that we’re certainly capable of doing it again. 

Consider how President Johnson’s administration, through the Great Society initiative, introduced anti-poverty legislation and specific measures that would help level the playing field for Americans — things like Medicare and Medicaid that we take for granted today, but were radical ideas at the time. If her Just Society proposals were to ever get passed into law, we might look back on the legislation in a few decades and think about how obviously beneficial these bills were to society at large and wonder why anyone would ever have opposed them in the first place. 

“With the Green New Deal, we weren’t just talking about climate change; we’re talking about the systems that got us to climate change,” Ocasio-Cortez explained to the New York Times. “And similarly, with our Just Society package, we’re not simply addressing poverty or wages. We’re addressing some of the basic structural reasons that are resulting in those outcomes.” She emphasized that her proposal, while legislatively impossible with the current makeup of Congress, was necessary. “I don’t think there’s any shortage of obstacles that we have ahead of us, but I don’t think that we not do things just because they’re hard.”