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An Agenda to Reduce Poverty

 

While the Bush Administration has reduced taxes on the wealthiest Americans and undermined social welfare programs over the past 6 years, 5 million more Americans have fallen into poverty, bringing the total to 37 million.  That means at least one in eight Americans are now living in poverty.  

In response, a task force of academics, worker representatives, and low-income advocates convened by the Center for American Progress, has issued a report on poverty in America which includes a 12-step plan to reduce poverty levels by 50% within 10 years.  Enacting just four of the steps would lift 9.4 million Americans out of poverty and help ensure they have the tools to stay out:

  • indexing the minimum wage to half the average hourly wage ($8.40 in 2006)
  • expanding access to child care and early education
  • enacting the Employee Free Choice Act
  • expanding the earned income and child tax credits 

Other recommendations include locating affordable housing in opportunity-rich communities, increasing access to Pell Grants and other higher education assistance programs, and helping former prisoners reintegrate into their communities.  While it is likely the report's recommendations will need to wait for the next administration, cities and states are already acting to provide relief to poor families.

Poverty Commissions - California, Delaware and Vermont legislatures are moving bills to establish commissions charged with developing comprehensive plans to reduce child poverty by at least 50% within 10 years. Connecticut is moving HB 7247, a bill to designate community action agencies as the state's coordinating agencies to reduce child poverty, with the goal of cutting child poverty in half by 2014.

Financial Incentives - New York City will soon start a pilot project that gives $5,000 a year to poor families who meet goals designed to help lift them out of poverty, such as regular medical appointments, attending parent-teacher conferences and getting a full-time job.  The project is modeled after a Mexican program that has been praised by the World Bank and others as a model for fighting chronic poverty.

Low-Income Tax Credits - In addition to HB 1443, which provides income tax relief to low-income residents, Arkansas legislators are moving HB 1337 to provide an income tax credit of $75 for low-income taxpayers and each of their dependents in order to provide grocery tax relief.  In Oregon, to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by families living in poverty, Gov. Ted Kulongoski pledged to live off $21 worth of groceries for a week, which is what the average food stamp recipient spends weekly.  To help him make his purchases, a food stamp recipient and mother of three accompanied the Governor to a grocery store where she steered him away from healthier organic foods and toward low-cost staples like macaroni and cheese.

Living Wage Requirements - On the heels of Maryland's first-in-the-nation state living wage law, the Hawaii House and Senate have sent HB 760 to conference committee to iron out differences on a bill that would establish living wage requirements for service contract workers.  The bill would require public contractors to pay workers at levels similar to what public employees receive for similar work. 

Step-by-step, states can extend a hand-up for those in poverty, make sure that all work is rewarded with decent pay, and assure that low-income families have the educational and financial tools to help themselves.

 

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