On Thursday, April 3rd, 2014, IMPACT Community Action is holding a Poverty Summit, as part of its recognition of the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. IMPACT is in a unique position to hold this Poverty Summit, since the organization’s roots date to the early days of the War on Poverty. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 – the cornerstone of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s vision for ending poverty in the U.S. – established community action agencies as a core element. Community action agencies are alive and well after half a century in the state of Ohio, with 50 different organizations – including IMPACT – members of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.
There are those who wrongly claim that the War on Poverty was a failure, wasting millions and millions of tax-payer dollars. There are those who claim that community action agencies benefited only those working for them and not the citizens of their communities. The reality is that the War on Poverty had a profound impact on reducing the extent of poverty in this country – from 19.0% when it started in 1964 to 12.1% only five years later. During that same time, the child poverty rate dropped by half. Those who worked for community action agencies – including the Columbus Metropolitan Area Community Action Organization (CMACAO) – worked tirelessly to make a better life for the members of their communities. Fifty years later, IMPACT serves over 20,000 low-income working people in central Ohio through a wide range of services, including teaching financial literacy, financial planning, emergency assistance, and energy efficiency.
As many of us know, poverty is directly related to the vagaries of the economy. Since the economic crisis that started in 2008, poverty has escalated, locally as well as across the U.S. That erased some of the gains of the War on Poverty, but increases in poverty rates started much earlier, especially during the imposition of austerity programs during the Reagan years. The “welfare reform” of the Clinton years ended up hurting many more people as George Bush’s policies slowed the economy down, especially with the Wall Street melt down toward the end of Bush’s presidency.
Columbus has not been any more immune to these developments than anywhere else in America. And it is not just in the inner cities where we see increases in poverty but also in what used to be the affluent suburbs surrounding the city.
The most important lesson to be learned from the War on Poverty is that government intervention works and reduces poverty, which increases when public dollars are taken out of the equation and public programs are cut back. We live in a community where far too many struggle to provide food, shelter, transportation, and clothing for their families. We live in a community where current austerity programs like cuts in food stamps (SNAP) make their lives worse. We can do something about our current situation, especially when we recall the vision of the War on Poverty.
Join the discussion on what to do to make Columbus a better place for our most vulnerable citizens by coming to the IMPACT Poverty Summit on Thursday, April 3, at 3:00 pm in the Columbus Public Health Department Auditorium at 240 Parsons Avenue.