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Task Force Discusses Anti-Poverty Strategies

By Angela Knudson
February 2, 2009

Task Force Discusses Anti-Poverty Strategies

By Angela Knudson

Mayors convened at the Winter Meeting January 17 to discuss current economic conditions in their communities. The Task Force on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, engaged with mayors and several experts on how to address the myriad of issues facing cities today and how to engage the new administration in those discussions. Joining the mayors was Congressman Jim McDermott (WA), Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee and Chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee, and Robert Greenstein, Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In discussing the economic recovery package before Congress, which would give much needed aid state and local governments and related legislation, they explained the importance of participation from mayors. Both speakers emphasized the importance of mayors to educate members of Congress about what is going on in their cities and getting them to understand the tough decisions mayors are forced to make because of budget constraints.

The task force reviewed the latest action agenda, "Mayors National/Metro Agenda on Poverty for President Obama and the 111th Congress," which calls for EITC expansion and reform, tax reforms for low wage families, an expansion of the child tax credit, a nationally funded universal Pre-K, and many of family support assistance.

One major portion of these action items calls for new standard for calculating poverty, a calculation that would include the costs of childcare, housing, and healthcare. A champion of a new federal poverty measure, McDermott introduced "The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2008" in the 110th Congress. After operating on a number that has been in place since 1960, it is evident that current poverty numbers are inaccurate and omit many people. Noting the importance of different standards for different cities, McDermott made a point to encourage mayors to be a part of this process.

Greenstein spoke to the seriousness of the issue. He noted that an action that accelerates a recession and makes it deeper and longer is when state and local governments, to no fault of their own, cut programs and raise taxes. Such decisions, often forced upon mayors, can no longer be the solution. Greenstein stressed that by all accounts there could be an increase as much as nine percent increases in the poverty level over the next few years. With unemployment rates skyrocketing, an estimated 7.5-10.5 million additional people will enter poverty. Such alarming statistics emphasize the need for a robust economic recovery package that would provide relief to local governments as well as states, and would inject more demand into the economy. Both speakers stressed that the new Administration faces tough decisions ahead, and participation from the mayors is critical. And without the mayors' help, it would be hard to understand economic hardships at the local level.

help, it would be hard to understand economic hardships at the local level.