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Maureen Lane

John Edwards (and lots of organizers like me) speaking on poverty in Iowa

Nobel Prize winning economists announced that the economy will benefit if we raise the minimum wage. Perfect timing as I just came back from speaking at a symposium on fighting poverty held in Iowa!

Leaders like Former Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards addressed this symposium held by "The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice" at University of Iowa Law School. The topic was "One Act, Ten Years, and Thousands of Families: Welfare Reform in Contemporary America." It was a timely chance for a long hard look at "Welfare Reform" - which is technically called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA).

The symposium was well organized by students on the Journal's board. We didn't discuss poverty in a vacuum; we talked about it in terms of its relation to childcare, marriage, the global economy, organizing the poor and education. I'll speak more about what I learned in my next blog.

As I spoke to law students and other panelist from around the country, some of whom shared with me privately that they had received welfare in their pasts, I heard similar themes. Lawyers had clients that were unable to more out of poverty because of the expense of family health crises, housing needs or lack of education. Even the law students from middle class families were overloaded with school loans and torn between paying their loans and doing public interest or poverty law.

On Friday, Chrissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House an Iowa homeless program, spoke simply and powerfully about the government's responsibility to make a more equitable society. She said the threshold for qualifying to receive free health care and childcare are too low. When her shelter residents were able to get jobs, they could loose Medicaid and food stamps by earning only a dollar more an hour. She pointed out that even if you are earn 200% above the poverty line the benefits you'd be allowed to receive would be too low to actually help your family. She identified the real need in rural Iowa for income supports (additional help from the government that the working poor can receive - things like food stamps and housing subsidies). She demonstrated that housing, jobs, childcare, health care and education are needed for the people of Iowa and the whole country. That's just what we find is needed here in NYC.

Senator John Edwards, currently director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, brought the nation's attention to poverty when he ran for president and then vice-president in 2004. Edwards was the keynote speaker of the symposium on Saturday afternoon. He is working with others nationally to discuss and design recommendations for eradicating poverty. He said the United States has a moral imperative to lead the world in anti-poverty work. He spoke about raising the minimum wage, expanding Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), transitional jobs and more money for education and training.

Edwards pointed out that right now 'poverty has no political potency.' I would agree that Welfare Reform certainly has damaged the government's ability to help the poor move out of poverty. The Senator was riveting in one particular insight when he said that we can "Act patriotically about something besides the war." His words resonated with an audience that wants to see life in the U.S. expand economically to allow more of us the opportunity to move to the middle class and share a fairer equality of condition.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:08 AM, Oct 19, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Welfare
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