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Personal responsibility key to combating poverty, Edwards says

WASHINGTON—Fighting the kind of poverty that Hurricane Katrina revealed anew will take more than the government can provide, John Edwards said Monday. It also will take a commitment by the poor to work and stop having babies at young ages, he said.

"While America does more, people will have to do more too," said Edwards, a former and likely future presidential candidate.

Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina who ran in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2004 and ended up as his party's vice presidential candidate, used a Washington speech to criticize President Bush's response to the hurricane. He also proposed several new ways to help poor Americans, whose plight in the hurricane's wake is prompting a new look at poverty by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, also gave a speech Monday. Kerry criticized Bush for the hurricane response as well as for his handling of the war in Iraq.

Edwards went further in exploring possible solutions. He argued that choices made by poor people, especially when they're young, greatly affect their chances of being poor.

"When a 13-year-old girl thinks there's nothing wrong with having a baby that will drive them both towards lives of poverty," he said, society has failed.

"When 15-year-old boys become fathers, then walk away, get shot or go to jail," he added, society also has failed.

He urged expanding government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit for people who work but are poor and creating federally financed "work bonds" that give low-income working families $500 a year, housing vouchers to help poor people move to better neighborhoods with better schools and $1,000 annual grants that they could save for five years toward down payments on houses.

In exchange, he said, the poor and the government would have a new "covenant."

"Everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain," Edwards said, "to work, to hold off having kids until they're ready and to do their part for their kids when the time comes."

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For the Edwards speech, go to http://oneamericacommittee.com/20050919.asp.

For the Kerry speech, go to www.johnkerry.com.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): John Edwards

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