With 1.6 million Pennsylvanians
living in poverty, the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee, the legislative policy development arm of the House Republican Caucus, launched its Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty
initiative in July 2013.
The effort is designed to identify and examine “the barriers in place for individuals and families attempting to reach self-sufficiency.” The Committee recently released a mid-term report, “Beyond Poverty,”
which identifies such barriers as unaffordable child care, lack of health care, a criminal record, limited financial literacy skills, inadequate education, homelessness, mental health problems, hunger, substance abuse, lack of transportation, and “benefits cliffs” in which earnings increases jeopardize eligibility for benefits programs.
The House GOP Committee received some kudos for being inclusive and reaching across the political spectrum throughout the initiative. For example, in a blog post
entitled “Poverty Isn’t A Partisan Problem,” the free-market Commonwealth Foundation applauded the Committee for inviting stakeholders of all perspectives to share their insights. The more liberal-oriented Community Action Association of Pennsylvania also celebrated
the Committee’s work-to-date by awarding the Republican chair its Public Official of the Year for his “leadership in making poverty a priority issue.” Community Legal Services
of Philadelphia has also been complimentary, stating that “the report accurately outlines many of the barriers facing the low-income Pennsylvanians we see every day, including lack of jobs and employment opportunities, criminal records, lack of affordable child care, transportation, and health insurance, and the inability to move forward in life in the face of hunger and homelessness. We look forward to continuing to work with… the committee as they move into Phase Two of their efforts.” At the same time, the group noted that they “would have liked to see the report pay more attention to the fact that a changing economy, with a greater share of low-wage jobs with few benefits, has made escaping poverty much harder.”
As the Committee moves forward from its initial analysis to its recommendations, anti-poverty advocates across the nation should stay tuned to see whether the across-the-aisle approach holds. While there are bound to be differences over policy solutions, there may also be some common ground. If elected officials and other stakeholders can have a healthy debate in Pennsylvania, perhaps anti-poverty policies can be the focus of civil discourse in other states and at the national level as well. After all, Pennsylvania’s slogan is “America Starts Here.”Posted by Lauren French and Jodie Levin-Epstein
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