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Castleberry Fairs

Screening of "Grapes of Wrath" sparks discussion about poverty at The Colonial

Democratic hopeful Steve Marchand speaks

August 01, 2018
BETHLEHEM — The Colonial Theater screened The Grapes of Wrath last Friday, the kickoff event for its "Dustbowl Revival" weekend. The showing was attended at least one hundred politically-engaged citizens, several area nonprofits, as well as strong attendance by a half dozen political hopefuls from both parties.

"The war is not over," said Jeanne Robillard, CEO of Tri-County CAP, which collected food bank donations Friday night. She cited the gains made in Grafton County, where the poverty rate fell from 20 percent to just over 10 percent in the 54 years since her organization was founded, thanks to the combination of federal attention with local knowledge.

"Local people know what the issues are in their community," she said.

Yet she did not shirk from pointing out the progress that still needs to be made: too many working families holding down multiple jobs, too many Americans one medical bill away from financial disaster.

One CNBC report found that 61percent of Americans did not have enough savings to cover an unexpected $1,000 medical bill, while 40 percent couldn't cover a $400 expense, according to a Federal Reserve report from May of this year. While a smaller percentage of Americans may fall below the poverty line than in 1964, Americans as a whole are not necessarily more financially secure.

Indeed, the very ways that we measure poverty may contribute to the problem—standards have lagged behind changes in the economy, Robillard said, so that the poverty line reflects the way Americans lived in the 1960's, rather than how they live today.

Candidate for governor Steve Marchand, who is running for the Democratic party's Sept. 11 primary, spoke on the theme of fighting poverty at the national and local level.

"Lyndon Baines Johnson was probably the last president who made fighting poverty a priority," he said.

He observed that modern poverty may be less visible than it was during the Dust Bowl, or during the Great Society reforms of the 1960's, when it was a national focus.

"It still exists today, maybe in less dramatic ways...you don't see that someone is going to sleep in their car," he added.

He recalled coming of age politically in the anti-government Republican wave elections that brought Ronald Reagan's conservative coalition to power, when government was characterized as a malign force—the idea was that "government is the problem".

"I hope there's very little debate about the indispensability of some level of the public sector," Marchand argued, and added, "Social Security is arguably the most successful program to fight poverty in the history of this country."

He also cited the importance of entrepreneurship in reducing poverty, especially in rural areas, which he called, "the ultimate equalizer in terms of the kinds of businesses that get created."

Speaking after the event, Marchand praised social insurance systems which provide preventative care, which he said reduced overall costs, and catastrophic care for genuine emergencies. For costs in the middle, he suggested that health savings accounts with a sliding scale of government match, could be implemented effectively in New Hampshire.

Marchand joined sitting state senator Jeff Woodburn (D) and state representatives Linda Masamilla (D) and Erin Hennessey (R), as well as Grafton County Commissioner Linda Lauer.

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