Congress Takes on Poverty

Congressman and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan hosted a hearing on poverty in America and failed to include anyone currently living in poverty.  NEOCH is in business to provide a voice to those often forgotten by society, and we could have provided any number of individuals to help illustrate the point.  We could have sent a number of our Street Voices speakers such as Don to talk about long term health issues that keep him living in poverty.   The long waits for the state to determine if a person is in fact disabled and deserves government support to keep them in poverty for the rest of their lives is another reason for poverty in America. 

But Congressman Ryan was not looking for an answer to why there are a large number of people living in poverty.   He wanted to make a political point that anti-poverty programs have not worked.  He was interested in showing that cash assistance, Medicaid and food stamps programs are not working.  He would not be interested in hearing from an ex-IRS agent who had her family dissolve and could not find behavioral health care in America.   Most commentators mentioned the symbolism of the candidate who constantly had to explain the 47 percent comment throughout his campaign then hosting this hearing. 

What was the point of all this?  Why host a hearing on poverty and not invite any American actually facing poverty?  The purpose is to drum up support for eliminating the entitlement to food stamps and block grant Medicaid and undermine Obamacare.  It would not be helpful that Raymond, a veteran, would talk about how he will have to work for the rest of his life because he does not have access to any safety net system.  Congressman Ryan did not want to hear from anyone struggling to feed their children with food stamps or the family terrified that their 21 disabled son cannot take care of themselves and will have no where to get help as an adult.  There was no witness called from the senior population who could talk about how they love Medicare and feel that it was one of the greatest government programs ever invented because that would not be part of the Ryan script.  No one testified how great the school lunch program was to provide the proper nutrition to the kids who could then focus on learning.  And there was no one represented who could talk about being able to sleep in a shelter bed in Cleveland despite the increasing numbers because the government stimulus program. 

The anti-poverty programs for the elderly are working because it is so engrained in our society.  Every suburb has a senior citizen assistance department, and to that end we have only a small number of homeless people over 60 years of age.   There is not the level of rural poverty as there was in the 1960s.  The family safety net system is not working and needs reformed, but not the remedy proposed by Congressman Ryan.  We need a dramatic expansion in government support for families to lift them out of poverty.  It was ironic that in the same week fast food workers demanded a higher wage in order to lift themselves out of the need for government support, Congressman Ryan was hosting a hearing to figure out how to make it harder for those same workers to get government help. 

Brian Davis

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Government Can Solve Problems 1

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 

Government has taken a beating beginning with "government is not the solution to our problem;, government is our problem" and continuing with "the era of big government is over;" falling dramatically from the lofty ideas first collected in 1787 as the preamble to the Constitution.  Government has figured out a way to heal after a Civil War, a way to regulate against food that killed, destroy an evil political ideaology that had swept Europe and put a man on the moon after a 10 year goal was set.  They have developed a way to bring states back from the brink when they refused to enforce court ordered integration of schools with the Civil Rights Act and the important Voting Rights Act.  Government has funded an end to polio, AIDS management drugs, and pushing the life expectancy of the population. 

Now, we have a period in which we slash government with a blindfold called Sequestration.  We have a Congress too timid to even debate many issues such as abortion, mortgage interest deductions, an assault weapons ban, and the age of retirement.  In a time when people fly planes into IRS offices, distrust government registry of gun sales, and have begun shooting District Attorneys and County Sherriffs, we need to start talking about the life saving activities of government.  When we only hear about lavish conferences, wasted dollars for x-ray machines at the airport, or 2 years wait for disability claims within the Department of Veteran's Affairs, we need to provide some balance. We wanted to document some successes in government in a time of scorn and outright hatred involving arming of the citizens to protect against government.  We the people have done some incredible work that we need to champion.

This edition we will look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009 which put a bunch of money into existing programs.  They funded infrastructure projects, increased unemployment compensation and for our purposes pumped a bunch of funding into the Emergency Shelter Grant.  In Cuyahoga County we received $14 million to serve homeless people between 2010 and 2012.   This was a substantial amount of money to be used for homeless people at the same time.  It allowed for experimentation and trials that we never had the opportunity or funds to try in the past.  It was a resounding success and really saved Cleveland. 

There were problems with the delivery of so many funds in such a short period of time, but that is to be expected.  There was not the level of transparency that we would have preferred and there were some weak links in the agencies that distributed the funds.  NEOCH had some better ideas for how to prevent homelessness, but in the big picture the money worked.   The shelters were able to get people out quickly and were able to limit the flow of people into the shelters.   We did not have to turn people away even though there was a significant increase in requests for shelter.  With the funds from government, we prevented hundreds from having to spend time in the shelters.   The stimulus dollars prevented homelessness and moved people quickly back into housing.  This concept worked and proves that with the right funding we can reduce homelessness.   For too long we have been only trying to triage people and keep them alive.  We have spent all our money on this concept, and never had any left over for housing.   We have proven that if we had targeted money for housing, we could quickly save people the agony of having to stay in shelter. 

We need to build on this success by expanding targeted access to homeless prevention dollars.  We know that eviction diversion works, and we know that if we can provide rental assistance to as many people as possible who show up at the shelter we can reduce the number of people forced to stay in the shelters.  Government can do things right, and government funds can have an impact on society.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a success for homeless people in Cleveland Ohio.

Cuyahoga County Government Makes Improvements

In 2008 to 2009, Cuyahoga County voters decided to end the Commissioner form of government and backed a charter that included a County Council and a County Executive.  Slowly, we are seeing big changes in the contracting process and how funds are overseen with more transparency.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource the distribution of hunger dollars to the United Way and the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee that meets to distribute FEMA funds to shelters and hunger centers.  This is a great idea and an example of County Government functioning in a fair and efficient manner.  NEOCH has a board position on the Emergency Food and Hunger Committee, and have often wondered why it did not serve a more prominent role in the community.  They have every expert on food and shelter around the table and are overseen by the United Way.  Their only role in the community and yet all they do is distribute around $800,000 to $900,000 in federal funding to the shelters and hunger programs every year. 

This FEMA allocation emergency services program was begun about 30 years ago when emergency needs began to grow out of control in most large cities.  It was decided that federal funding should be provided to make up the shortfall in demand for shelter beds and food for pantries and soup kitchens.  The formula is based on unemployment in a state and nearly every large community in the United States receives funding.  In exchange for the money, the United Ways in each community had to construct a local advisory to decide on how these funds were to be distributed.  These were mandated to include religious leaders (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, the Jewish Community Foundation, and other Interdenominational religious groups).  They had to include the Community Action Agency and the Red Cross as well as City and County government.  They also included major foundations, other non-profits, advocates, and a person who has received benefits from the program.  This was always a spectacular group with an exceptionally limited mandate.  The group came up with a fair and equitable distribution of the funds about 15 years ago, and there was not much else that they needed to do except vote on the split of the limited pool of funds.  The United Way administers these funds and takes a tiny fee to do the reporting and distribution.   The program is entirely transparent and has a good process for distributing these funds and selecting which groups in the community receive these funds.  Tax payers should be proud of the efficient and effective use of government funding. It is unfortunate that these funds have seen repeated cuts over the last three years.

Going back to 2009 before the County Government was replaced, there were attempts to merge the two largest hunger organizations in the community and there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the part of government about the role of the Cleveland Foodbank and the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.  This dispute has gone on for years, and foundations and others have tried to resolve the issue with little success.  Government does not necessarily understand food policies and the exact role of the pantry vs. the hot meal programs and how the Foodbank supports all these programs.  In April 2012, the County decided to outsource their funds of a little over $1 million to the United Way and asked that the Emergency Food and Shelter Board figure out a strategy for distributing these funds with special attention toward meeting emerging hunger needs in Cuyahoga County.   This is a vote of confidence in the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Board.  The board will have two additional members from Cuyahoga County, but will operate in a similar manner that they have operated over the last few decades.  This will maximize hunger dollars in the community.  It is expected for this collaboration to extend through 2014, and for the FEMA Board to make recommendations to the County in early 2013 with regular updates on a quarterly basis.  This is an excellent use of local government funding, and can be a model for other programs.  Having all the experts in the community sitting around a table to decide on the best use of tax payer funding will maximize these dollars.  How do we get the foundations to throw in their money that they spend on hunger into the same pool?

Brian Davis

Post reflect the opinion of those signing the entry.