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Spend more time on poverty solution

Increase the number of people considered poor? That’s what the U.

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Increase the number of people considered poor? That’s what the U.S. Census Bureau is studying at the moment – whether to raise the income limit for poverty to $16,600 to $19,500 for a family of four.

Thinkers and government experts are bantering about that poverty formula, first set down on paper by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in 1965, saying they want a new measuring stick for what poor people spend on food clothing, housing and extras, the New York Times said.

That change would make 46 million Americans, 17 percent of the population, poor. Last month, only 12.7 percent were considered poor, the lowest level in almost a decade.

Of course, a high poverty line means more government spending on benefits, so the White House has said changing the poverty formula will need a few more years of study.

While the math lovers in Washington might have a point, they have not spoken of what needs families face these days and how federal or state programs can better serve them. They have not discussed why homeless programs and employment training fail sometimes. They haven’t spent a week eating cold cereal for dinner.

And that’s the sad news here – they have lost sight of the forest in favor of the trees, or rather, the column of numbers.

How about cutting red tape in grant programs meant to help communities attract manufacturing plants? Small communities like Lawrence County seem always outnumbered by big city guns when it comes to red tape.

Why not bring the commodity program back up to par, maybe even change its approach, to feed more of our hungry?

Or, funnel the government dollars paying for the Census Bureau’s statistical shuffling to the United Way. We at least could measure the effect in our communities through boosts to local medical clinics and food banks.

Poverty "thresholds," "lines" and population percentages should be issues for statisticians, not human beings.

Our poor need an immediate helping hand and perhaps we’re the only ones who truly stand ready – to dig in our pockets, help them to help themselves, teach them to fish.

In the end, we will all become better off for the effort.