Obama’s Record on Fighting Poverty

Print Share on LinkedIn More

December 1, 2010; Source: Spotlight on Poverty | A good chunk of the nonprofit sector says it is about fighting poverty. This blog posting by Barbara Blum, former Commissioner of the NY State Department of Social Services, posted on the Spotlight on Poverty website, provides an interesting perspective on what the Obama Administration has been doing, in her estimation, to fight poverty.

Blum argues that the Obama Administration’s “quiet campaign” against poverty is built on “three key planks: building human capital, enforcing wage and hour standards, and providing income-enhancing benefits.”

In the human capital plank, Blum places the “Race to the Top” K-12 education reform effort, the Administration’s support for community colleges, revisions in the system for federal financial aid for students, and implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. On the income enhancement agenda, she credits the Administration with trying to remove barriers preventing families from getting food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), child nutrition subsidies, and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) funds. She argues, “the good news is that we can accomplish a lot without new legislation, building on the quiet campaign for change.”

Blum concludes, “The Obama administration is focused intently on easing poverty, more so than perhaps any administration since the mid-1960s.”

We have three questions for NPQ readers from their perches from the front lines of the fight against poverty: (1) How effective has the Obama Administration’s quiet campaign against poverty been? (2) Given the less-than-quiet election of conservative Congressmen pledged to cut back the size and involvement of government, does the quiet campaign to fight poverty need to become a bit louder? (3) With unemployment benefits expiring and perhaps unlikely to be extended by the new conservative Congress, what is your perspective on the prospects for future anti-poverty progress or regression?—Rick Cohen

  • Nikki Kirk

    I believe that all of the above stated enhancements are all notable in the fight against poverty. The other barrier that needs to be removed is the barring and discrimination by the majority of US employers of discriminating against those that have criminal records. I work in a financial aid office in SC and I have people that are career students because of employment barriers in our state regarding hiring ex-offenders. Students that have drug convictions of any sort, or those that may have been labeled “accomplicies” face a lifetime of poverty and a career in crime because many people are unable to start over.

    They are not asking for anyone to forget their sins, just forgive them. I have found this barrier is costing tax payers billions annually. Students come to school, acrue student loan debt that will never be paid off, and they never are able to be employed. They have found another way to beat the system.

    Those individuals that have little education and minor criminal offenses on background checks that were once employed but laid off due to NAFTA and CAFTA in the South are finding it impossible to start anew.

  • Romona T Williams

    I couldn’t agree more w/Nikki’s comments but will expand to the public sector as well. In addition, there are some states, such as MO, that prohibit formerly incarcerated individuals w/a drug related crime from receiving food stamps, which is a absolute assault on human rights to deny anyone US citizen access to food stamps in their time of need.

    The credit reporting system is another barrier that must be addressed by advocates of socio-economic equity and it’s impact on increasing and sustaining poverty.

  • rick cohen

    For Ramona and Nikki: You’re both raising very important issues about formerly incarcerated people and the way society treats them on their reentry. The nonprofits that work with formerly incarcerated individuals face the dual challenge of a hostile public policy environment (both for the nonprofit trying to work with people before they are released and for the individuals themselves when they get out trying to find housing and jobs) and a difficult funding picture, with few philanthropic entities willing to put money into reentry programs and services. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Tawny Stottlemire

    There are three other points of progress that should be noted: The Administration’s implementation of the Supplemental Measure of Poverty, Health Care Reform (although it really wasn’t “quiet”), and ARRA.

    For decades anti-poverty advocates have readily recognized both the need and difficulties of updating and/or revising how the US measures poverty. The SPM is definitely a step in the right direction and one for which I’m sure the Administration catch flak.

    Although wildly debated and likely to have some, if not many, measures repealed, Health Care Reform is another anti-poverty measure the Administration has championed.

    Despite ARRA’s challenges for the social service sector, I was inspired by Angela Blackwell Glover’s recent observation that at least ARRA was a vote of confidence by elected leaders in the social service sector’s capacity to impact social and economic change. That’s a vote we haven’t seen in a long while, and aren’t likely to see again, given the drastically conservative idealist shift in voting and media rhetoric.

    I, for one, am very nervous about the future of social services and anti-poverty progress from the government sector. The talk in Washington is not IF to cut, but HOW MUCH to cut and the recession has individual and private donations plummeting. We’re being bad-mouthed in conservative media and people are listening. Even the Feds are setting up “sting” operations to try to catch Government funded NPOs doing something wrong. Accountability is and always will be very important and it’s unfortunate that the 99% of very good, worthy anti-poverty organizations get blasted because of the rare but widely publicized antics of a few. Overall, the mood out there is decidely “less Government” and “less individual capacity to give to charity.” It’s the nation’s working poor that will suffer.