The new thinking on an age-old problem
By Heather Scofield
The Durango Herald
As local residents and officials mobilize to meet struggling families' needs today, advocates say some big-picture and novel approaches also will be a necessary part of the battle against poverty.
Here are a few of the concepts gaining traction around the nation:
The National Poverty Center issued a report last year indicating their research found that state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits "dramatically boosted the incomes of low-income households."
Many families use the money to reduce debt and build savings for necessities such as vehicles, appliances, moving costs and college tuition, the report said. And a Census Bureau report released this month indicated that without the credit, the nation's poverty rate would be 2 percent higher.
The Bell Policy Center's latest report on poverty, issued Dec. 28, recommends state legislators double and make permanent Colorado's temporary Earned Income Tax Credit, which supplements federal earned income tax credits. Doing so would add roughly $2 per hour to minimum wage workers' annual income, the report said.
Colorado is among the seven worst states in the nation for making private college affordable to the state's poorest families, according to the Bell Policy Center's report. When it comes to making public, four-year college affordable, the state ranked 17th.
Even with financial aid, the state's poorest families would have to spend most of the family's income to send a child to a public university. For a private college, all the family's income won't get them halfway there. Even attending community college would eat up half of the family's annual wages, the report said.
The result is many poor families have no access to a promising path out of poverty: education.
Opportunity NYC: Family Rewards program is an example of the innovative and unconventional approaches being tried.
The program provided cash incentives of $20-$600 to families over three years for reaching goals for their education, employment and health care.
On average, participating families earned more than $3,000 per year through the program, the National Poverty Center reported. And after two years, an independent research firm concluded the program had reduced poverty, increased family saving, improved school attendance and reduced emergency room visits for routine medical care.
Funding for success
Some government officials are changing the way they fundsocial service programs.
Numerous communities around the nation are implementing formal bidding processes, mandating collaboration among multiple organizations and tracking results when issuing grants.
Basically, they must prove their work has made or will make a dent in addressing the problems.
La Plata County officials have embraced this concept. County commissioners have been tracking charities' results in recent years to help make their public service grant funding decisions.
More charitable organizations are raising money and awareness through smart phone applications and social networking websites.
In fact, the One Day's Wages charity drew attention to its inaugural launch by creating a Facebook page entitled, "For each person that joins this group, we'll donate $1 to fight global poverty." The page has helped the charity raise more than $1 million in the last two years.
Tech website Mashable.com recently ran a feature titled "5 iPhone apps to help fight poverty." They allow users to donate, get involved and stay informed in easy, bite-sized ways.