The Advocate (Louisiana), May 9, 2008: Panel backs poverty fight

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The state could be required to reduce child poverty by 50 percent under a bill easily approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 660, sponsored by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, would create the Child Poverty Prevention Council of Louisiana. Its sole purpose would be to pursue programs to reduce child poverty in the state by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

How much it would cost to reach the goal was not discussed.

Nevers said it is time for the state among the worst in the nation when it comes to child poverty to do something about the problem, which is affecting children۪s performance in school and costing the state money in the long run.

“I don۪t know of any issue that۪s more dire than the poverty of our children in this state,” Nevers told the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare Wednesday, adding that Louisiana has a 28 percent child poverty rate, the second highest in the nation.

“It۪s just something we cannot allow to continue,” he said.

Through the measure, the council would be able to seek private funding for public fund matches to support child poverty initiatives.

The council would find grant funding for local governments, nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations and other community-based groups to directly serve the parishes with the highest rated of child poverty.

SB660 also would create the Child Poverty Prevention Fund for grants and projects aimed at reducing child poverty.

In the state, there are already agencies such as the Children۪s Defense Fund, Agenda for Children, and Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations that work toward the goal of reducing child poverty.

But Martis Jones, vice president of the Community Solutions Institute within the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, said the bill puts the state۪s lawmakers at the helm of the initiative.

She said legislators have considered poverty to be a social issue, not addressing the ripple effects the issue has on education, work-force development and the economy.

“It۪s everybody۪s situation,” she said.

The council would consist of 14 members representing state departments, legislative committees, business associations and nonprofit agencies.

Judy Watts, founding director of Agenda for Children in New Orleans, said poverty underlies many of the problems seen with children and families.

Watts said 13 percent of Louisiana children live in extreme poverty, defined as a family of three earning less $17,600 annually. Half of the state۪s children live in low-income families, defined as a household of three earning less $35,000 annually, she said.

The proposed legislation was included in a report released last month from the Center for Law and Social Policy. The center, called CLASP, is a national nonprofit that works to improve the lives of low-income people.

“These state initiatives provide evidence of a political sea-change toward poverty and opportunity,” CLASP۪s report states, adding that a concerted federal focus should follow.

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