Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remediating and Reducing Poverty

Poverty is an issue that affects all major cities in the world. Recently I was asked to write an editorial for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. Through Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, foundations will use their prestige to make sure that 2008 sets the stage for concerted action on poverty and opportunity in 2009 and beyond. You can read the editorial below. Please visit http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/ to learn more about this organization.

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Remediating and Reducing Poverty

by Mayor Manny Diaz, Mayor of Miami and President of the United States Conference of Mayors

A Mayor's Plan for the National Agenda
The current financial climate in America underscores that entrenched poverty and limits on economic opportunity are not only local problems, but American problems. And national problems demand national investments. As Washington bails out Wall Street, they must also remember Main Street America and invest in education, infrastructure and poverty remediation measures to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency and a prosperous future.
This summer, as president of the United States Conference of Mayors, I announced five Mayors’ Action Forums, to convene a discussion on the major issues facing our nation’s cities: energy and the environment, crime and public safety, reducing and breaking the cycle of poverty, infrastructure investment and development, and the economic impact of arts, culture and travel. Due to the urgency of these problems, we held the first forum on August 5 and concluded the last forum on October 3.
While it is vitally important for the mayors of America’s cities and metropolitan areas to meet and discuss the problems facing our cities and arrive at concrete solutions, the reality is that these are national problems. America’s cities and metropolitan areas make up 85 percent of the total population. Our cities and metropolitan areas are where more than 90 percent of our national economic growth occurred between 2000 and 2007. Economic activity in our cities and metropolitan areas represent more than 86 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, Washington has ignored the needs and national growth opportunity of its cities and its people. The truth is that Washington has lost its values and sense of purpose—engaging in endless debate and partisan bickering while people in this country continue to suffer.
In view of Washington’s continuing neglect of these important issues, the United States Conference of Mayors took the initiative to hold these forums to devise a plan of action for America’s cities for the next president. The mayors of the country want to see our recommendations included in the next president’s proposals to congress, and implemented in the first 100 days of the next administration.
Poverty is at the top of our list. Statistics show that 1 in every 6 children in this country lives in poverty, with nearly half living in extreme poverty. In addition, of the more than 140 million Americans employed in 2006, 8.7 million were living in poverty – evidence that even full-time work is failing to lift workers out of poverty. Long-term poverty remediation is required.
We cannot tolerate such injustices in our midst. That’s why, on September 24 in Los Angeles, mayors at the Action Forum on Poverty included the following amongst their recommendations:
A recalculation of how poverty is measured to accurately determine the true nature of poverty in this country
A cabinet-level position to direct and coordinate poverty reduction programs with a special emphasis on early-childhood education and healthcare
Tax-code reforms to simplify the process to access benefits and make them available to a wider number of families
An expansion of financial literacy programming to promote and enhance financial stability
Significant investment in workforce development programs to give students multiple paths to employment
We invited senior advisors to Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, so that no matter who prevails on November 4, America can look forward to real action on poverty in the coming year.
During my tenure as Mayor of Miami, I have worked to make our city an example of how we can alleviate and remediate both the immediate effects of poverty and its long-term causes. I also launched “Helping Hands, Mending Lives,” a 10-year, public-private partnership to end chronic homelessness. I’m proud to say that since then we have already reduced homelessness in Miami by 50 percent. In March, after Washington enacted an economic stimulus, we assisted low and moderate income residents to navigate the complicated tax filing process through 25 City of Miami-sponsored locations, so they could secure the relief to which they were entitled—and desperately needed.
Other mayors have taken bold and decisive action on poverty. Yet this alone is not enough. Poverty is a national problem and demands national attention. The next president must take strong steps to ensure that Washington never again abandons the needs of its cities and their residents.
I left Cuba at the age of six, arriving on my mother’s lap. We didn’t have a penny to our name, but I grew up to become mayor of one of America’s greatest cities because of a partnership between the federal government and the people of Main Street America. I believe in the American dream because I am a product of it. This is the only country in the world that inspires a dream. Let us not deny America’s poor and disadvantaged the same opportunity to dream.

Viewpoints in this section solely represent the authors’ opinions and not the opinions of "Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity."

- Manny