Saturday, February 07, 2009

Are We Impoverishing The US Anti-Poverty Effort?

My concern, now that we have earmarked multiple trillions of the public purse to bailing out banks and building bridges, is that we will have squeezed the money available to meet the goal established by Barack's new Domestic Policy Council Director, Melody Barnes, to cut poverty in the US in half within 10 years.

In my opinion, that goal will require not only new resources, but a totally new way of approaching the task, both of which may now be in jeopardy.

When Barack's economic stimulus package was first touted, my concern was that there would be so much money floating around that it would require a blunderbuss approach to distributing the money, and that blunderbuss approach would upset the delicate and intricate networks of support that are already doing such amazing work at the grassroots with at risk communities.

That was when I began talking about Offices of Direct Venture Development (, to act as a buffer between well-meaning but over-powerful national and state government efforts and those well-balanced community initiatives.

I saw the Offices not only helping to target and distribute sensitively resources downwards, but also acting as focal points for translating upwards the actual needs of the troops on the ground and their successful experiences, so that policy-makers would be as much informed by community experience as by the input received from Washington think tanks.

Now my worry is that there may be too little money available from the Obama Administration to fund anti-poverty programs - new and existing. So it is that my focus has shifted to finding ways to use what little money there may be, whether from private or public sources, to fund both existing and new programs (government and non-profit), all of which suffer from their own paucity of funding. I have posted a couple of articles about this on the same blog.

Whatever may be the eventual outcome with the availability of resources for the anti-poverty effort, there are other issues which I see complicating any successful effort to achieve the Half in Ten goal.

First, the main emphasis of the mainstream anti-poverty movement has generally been about addressing the causes of poverty. I welcome all the initiatives that are proposed, whether it be improving education, affordable housing or the availability of union membership. But my personal emphasis is on addressing the immediate consequences of poverty.

I have a separate blog which deals with this in more detail: The bottom line is that I want Barack, along with Half in Ten, to commit his Administration to the proposition that every man, woman and child in the US deserves access to adequate food, clothing, housing and healthcare.

By all means, let's do what we can about cause. It may take ten years, it may take thirty. But all it takes is willpower to commit to allowing everybody below the poverty line to have access to adequate food, clothing housing and healthcare - tomorrow.

And money. My four part radio series calculated about $200 billion a year. And that's why I'm worried that we have mortgaged so much of the public purse to bailing out banks and building bridges.

The next wrinkle is that many of the most at risk communities are located in rabidly conservative (both religious and political) parts of the country. It will require enormous delicacy and respect to go into those communities and negotiate with their pride and independence to help them be empowered to help themselves - under a liberal President, most of them despise.

And make no mistake, we let ourselves down as true progressives if we do not meet that challenge, and allow these neighbors of ours the same opportunity to help themselves - on their terms - as we would rabidly liberal communities.

It's precisely these sorts of challenges I relish having the opportunity to meet. I'll be honest. I am actively looking to find or create a role for myself that allows me to help in this fashion. If any reader has any suggestions, please do not be shy about contacting me or passing the message around your own networks.

But whether it is me or someone else, whether it is supported by Barack, his administration, a set of non-profits or private sources, I hope that we take the opportunity of this truly progressive administration to realize the vision of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and eradicate poverty once and for all in this, the richest country the world has ever known.

And I genuinely pray that I am proven wrong, and that the money we have allocated elsewhere does not impoverish the anti-poverty effort in the US.