September 19, 2011

Advocates gather in Fort Worth for first National Poverty Summit

Leaders of nonprofits call for protecting programs that help low-income families amid efforts in Washington to reduce the federal deficit.

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FORT WORTH -- The U.S. is at a critical point in the fight against poverty and should protect programs that help low-income families, leaders of national nonprofits said Monday in Fort Worth.

A week after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 1 in 6 people lives in poverty, members of about 10 national human service organizations gathered at the Omni Hotel for the first National Poverty Summit.

The summit was hosted by Catholic Charities USA, which will also hold its annual gathering in Fort Worth this week.

Several attendees noted that while 46.2 million now live under the poverty line -- the most since record-keeping started 52 years ago -- services for the poor are threatened by the tenor of deficit reduction talks in Washington.

"That is really going to jeopardize programs that have actually been incredibly successful even during the financial crisis in making sure that people don't go hungry or homeless," said Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, which works to move people out of poverty.

Congress should consider "real data" and "real situations" while confronting deficit control, she said. "A lot of the conversation in Washington is operating without a fact base," Levere said.

Leaders cited food stamps, housing subsidies and rapid rehousing as among programs threatened by funding cuts. Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the national homeless rate has remained mostly flat in the last few years, a trend she attributed to rapid rehousing programs that keep people from falling into homelessness.

But money for rapid rehousing was part of the stimulus package, and that "is pretty much done now," she said.

"Together with budget cuts and the increased rate of deep poverty that is linked to homelessness, we do expect the homeless rate to be going up," Roman said. "So this is kind of a scary moment. I think it is a dangerous time for people that are poor and vulnerable.

"We can't rebalance the budget on the backs of poor people," she said.

The two-day summit included a "call to action" by Melody Barnes, White House domestic policy coordinator. The conference is intended to launch a national conversation about poverty and identify new and more effective ways to reduce it.

"We're going to throw down the gauntlet today and say we are going to work on this together," said the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

Heather Reynolds, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in Tarrant County, said the organization was honored that the first summit was held in Fort Worth.

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689

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