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A 'What Works' approach to poverty

| Friday, June 6, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

State Rep. Dave Reed is on the right path, headed in the right direction, to reduce poverty in Pennsylvania.

For far too long we have had a polarized debate over poverty. Many on the right view poverty as a personal moral failure. If the poor pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they would not be poor. On the left, many advocate for more money, believing that if we keep doing and funding the same things we have over the past 40 years, somehow we will finally get it right.

Both sides are wrong, and the Indiana County Republican legislator is taking steps to bring members of both camps together to seek solutions to poverty rather than bitter partisanship.

This year, Reed and his party's Policy Committee embarked on a wide-ranging examination of poverty called “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.” By taking time to listen, ask questions, take testimony and learn from hundreds of experts, providers, consumers of services and everyday taxpayers, the committee identified poverty's 13 barriers without getting into polarized political talking points.

This is exactly why The Pittsburgh Foundation, along with the United Way of Allegheny County and the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, started the Campaign for What Works — a statewide initiative committed to changing the tone of the debate around human services by supporting programs that work for the consumer, taxpayer and state.

For example, the campaign supports full funding of Pennsylvania's Aging Waiver program. The program provides home health care services to elderly parents so that their children can keep working, knowing that Mom or Dad is being well cared for. This has been a bipartisan effort, led by Sen. Randy Vulakovich with strong bipartisan support from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody and Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa.

We support efforts to provide automatic early intervention services to homeless infants and toddlers. This effort is being led by Republican Rep. Justin Simmons along with Democrat House Rep. Madeleine Dean.

The Campaign for What Works supports efforts to ensure teenagers with disabilities get real work experience. Helping disabled young adults gain meaningful employment is another anti-poverty initiative; young adults become wage-earning, taxpaying citizens. This is something Republicans and Democrats can and should easily support.

And we support efforts by Republican Rep. Tom Murt and Sen. Costa to change the name of the Department of Public Welfare to Human Services, more accurately reflecting what the department does and who they serve.

Reed's 13 poverty barriers are: lack of family support, unaffordable child care, poor economic conditions, no health care, a criminal record, lack of financial literacy, inadequate education, homelessness, mental health problems, hunger, substance abuse, lack of transportation and the real problem associated with the so-called “benefit cliff.”

Reed got it right when he said “(T)he discussion on poverty in America never moves beyond the talking points of our major political parties.” The Campaign for What Works is ready to stand with him and all who seek workable solutions to ending poverty in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Jenkins is vice president for public policy and civic leadership at The Pittsburgh Foundation. He is a member of the leadership team of the Campaign for What Works.

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