HARRISBURG – Every region of Pennsylvania struggles with the effects of poverty; from the elderly couple living on a fixed income in Pittsburgh, to the single mother in Northumberland County struggling to raise her family, to the recent college graduate paying for student loans on an entry-level salary.
With these examples in mind, the House Majority Policy Committee sought input from numerous community groups, non-profit organizations and municipal officials, and gained perspective from tours and roundtable discussions conducted across the Commonwealth, as part of the initiative, “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.” Chairman Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and members of the committee have issued “Beyond Poverty,” preliminary findings from the initiative.
Designed to identify the barriers low-income Pennsylvanians face when attempting to reach self-sufficiency, the report shares the best principles in positively combatting poverty in the Commonwealth. The report also narrows the focus on the committee’s legislative and policy priorities moving forward.
“Government spends nearly a trillion dollars annually on programs to fight poverty, yet there are still 1.6 million Pennsylvanians struggling to make ends meet. It’s clearly time to reassess whether President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was a success or not,” Reed said.
Since assessments have shown that poverty isn’t contained to one type of community, the committee worked to examine it in a wide variety of locations, including inner-city neighborhoods, suburbs and also in the state’s rural areas. The hearings, roundtable discussions and tours included testimony from more than 100 stakeholders in locations that included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, the Poconos and Clearfield County.
“Poverty in our rural areas such as Clearfield County is very different than in our urban areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Reed said. “It shows a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in confronting this very serious problem.”
Moving forward, the report outlines five different areas of exploration. Using these areas of focus, teams of legislators will work to produce specific legislative and policy recommendations. The topics of study include:
• Outcomes That Matter – The committee discovered that government too often gauges the success of a program by the number of people participating, without an eye to whether the program is helping lift people out of poverty. A long-term vision is needed to evaluate anti-poverty programs, moving toward those which create the opportunity of self-sustainability.
• Life Skills 101 – A large portion of our society across all income brackets struggle with life skills, among them financial literacy and budgeting. Along with an approach that includes career readiness and education, anti-poverty programs must reinforce these skills in order to help people succeed.
• Benefits That Work – Anti-poverty programs must help lift people out of poverty, not create the situation of dependence on the government. The “benefits cliff” is the prime example of a structure which fails the neediest among us and our taxpayers. This is a situation where moving beyond the assistance of a government program, through success, actually results in a much tougher time making ends meet. Public assistance programs should reward success, not punish it.
• The Essentials – Successful programs and organizations focus first on providing essential needs such as food, water, shelter and clothing. Access to all four does not guarantee success but the absence of even one of them can mean certain failure. Government programs would be well served by following the example of these groups.
• Educating Through Opportunity – Education is one of the keys to helping those in poverty move toward self-sufficiency. All aspects of education must be examined, from early childhood programs, to higher education and beyond, to make sure it is leaving the students of this Commonwealth with the skills needed to succeed.
“To many people, the discussion on poverty in America never moves beyond the talking points of our major political parties,” Reed added. “I hope that with this initiative, we have started a conversation that moves beyond empty rhetoric and into a discussion on changes that will increase the effectiveness of our anti-poverty programs and improve lives across the Commonwealth.”
For more information, visit here.