Poverty Awareness Month – “It [ending hunger] will require all of us working together.”
January 27, 2009 § 1 Comment
From David Davenport
President and CEO
As Poverty in America Awareness Month comes to an end, I focus on the strategies and behaviors that the public sector (government), private sector (business) and social sector (non-profit organizations and the faith communities) can use to significantly reduce the rate of poverty in our nation, state and community. Today, I focus on policies and strategies I believe our government can (and should) undertake to reduce the intolerable and unacceptable level of poverty, and its impact on 36 million Americans.
Step 1 – Let’s be honest: Adjust the current federal poverty standard to reflect the true nature of poverty. The old standard has been criticized for years and isn’t relevant when compared to the current cost of living in most communities. Yes, this will increase the number of people living below or at the poverty level, but at least we’ll have a real picture of where we are, and can develop strategies to address the issue. Agreement on an appropriate measure will enable policy makers to decide whether (and when) progress is being made.
Step 2 – No living wage – no government partnership: Since most people living in poverty have some income, it’s only logical that many can be lifted out of poverty if their wage equaled or exceeded the living wage for their community. Government shouldn’t mandate a living wage, but it should give incentives for vendors and partners to provide its employees adequate health coverage and wages.. Government must require that its contractual relationships with for-profit vendors and non-profit partners only be with entities that provide health coverage and a living wage to their employees. No exceptions.
Step 3 – Lift people up by feeding them: This strategy focuses on food insecurity and nutrition-related health problems. It focuses on improving the Food Stamp program (one of the largest and most basic anti-poverty efforts in the United States). It builds on the fact that food stamps are widely used and that nutrition, obesity and diabetes are serious problems among low-income groups. (The Food and Nutrition Service is in a position to provide a catalyst for communities addressing these issues.)
Now, before you scream “big government” or “tax and spend redistribution,” let me note that financial analysts at Goldman Sachs suggest that increasing food stamp benefits has a broad, positive economic effect. They predict that for every dollar spent increasing food stamp benefits, $1.73 of economic activity is generated. For every dollar that is spent on tax rebate checks, only $1.26 of economic activity is generated. In Travis County, only 26 percent of those eligible to receive food stamp benefits are enrolled in the program. That has to change.
Lastly, food stamps must be counted as income when poverty and progress against poverty is assessed.
Step 4 – Lock’em up, but let’s think long and hard before we throw away the key: Government must be pressed to deal with the issues surrounding incarceration and its long-term impact . A vicious cycle of criminal activity exists in many communities: disrupted families, limited economic prospects, high poverty, criminal activity, incarceration, etc. Government must seek alternatives to break the vicious cycle of incarceration and poverty.
I believe government is not currently equipped to solve the issue of poverty in our country. These steps listed above are only a starting point. It will require all of us – communities, corporate partners and the social sector – working together to meet this difficult challenge. Poverty, hunger and homelessness are unacceptable, and success requires us to work together. Stay tuned this week, as I will share my ideas and strategies for the private and social sectors.