WASHINGTON – Black and poverty are too often synonymous, and the nation needs an agenda of new policies to defeat poverty for everyone, said the participants at the Poverty, Race and Policy Forum organized by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Wednesday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, exhorted the organization and the audience to work on new proposals to solve the problem.
“It is not good enough to have a report, it’s how you bring it to life and make it work,” Cummings said.
A document from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, center of the forum’s discussion, said that 37 million Americans are living in poverty. And it showed that by 2004, poverty rates for blacks had risen to 24.7 percent.
The report also said Hurricane Katrina brought attention to the relationship between race and poverty. It suggested promoting policy initiatives on reducing poverty and inequality, ensuring access to health insurance and guaranteeing comprehensive child care assistance, among other solutions.
Among several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings said, there were “very interesting stories” about how they rose from poor families to members of Congress.
Cummings talked about his parents — who had little education and moved from South Carolina to Baltimore “because they wanted their children to do well” — and the value they gave to his education.
Cummings never moved from Baltimore City, he said, because he wanted to show African American children they could do whatever they want in the future.
In Maryland, 8.8 percent of residents live in poverty. The state is 29 percent black, according to the U.S. Census.
“There is so much that government can do, and there is so much that we need to do for ourselves,” Cummings said.
Congressmen were there to take “the things that you are talking about here and turn them into legislation,” he said, while they had to work for their own communities.
Minutes before Cummings’ speech, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said that representatives should work together to put poverty into the House Democratic Caucus agenda.
Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park, said poor families’ access to education is not the only way to approach poverty.
Solutions should involve other issues, he said, like welfare, the criminal justice system, affordable housing, health care access, or even the impact of immigration on small business.
Walters also advocated a return to targeted-tax policy, so more revenue would come from the wealthy instead of poor families, among other solutions.
“I don’t know if the Democrats will have the guts” to go over all those issues, he said.
Cheryl Miller, associate professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said there are many programs working to solve problems of the poor, and that should not change.
“We can’t keep reinventing the wheel,” Miller said.
But she admitted that most programs fail to reach all those needing assistance.
The interim president and chief executive officer of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Elsie Scott, said that after what happened in New Orleans, she thought poverty would be a priority.
Now that several black members of Congress are going to be in top positions during the next Congress, Scott said, they were hoping for their help in working out solutions.
“We want to keep the issue alive.”
– 30- CNS-12-7-06