Fight against poverty unites Christian left and right
Liberal and conservative groups bridge some differences in new collaborative efforts to fight the problem.
Capitol Hill may not be embracing bipartisanship, but some in America's faith community are making strides in that direction. Christians from the right and the left have begun bridging political and religious differences to seek solutions to one of the nation's most persistent problems: poverty.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, a new bipartisan group called the Poverty Forum released a series of specific proposals aimed at reducing domestic poverty and keeping Americans hit by the economic crisis from joining the ranks of the poor. The group of 18 leaders – headed by the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter and policy adviser – has worked since November to develop concrete antipoverty policies they hope will gain widespread support.
"We wanted to transcend political differences and find 'what's right and what works,' as opposed to what's left or right, or what's liberal or conservative," says Mr. Wallis, a progressive Evangelical.
At the same time, Christian Churches Together (CCT), the most inclusive ecumenical organization ever formed in the US, reached agreement on a poverty initiative last month, which it presented to members of President Obama's Domestic Policy Council. "For a group as diverse as ours – left, right, middle – to reach a consensus on on-the-ground strategies is significant," says Richard Hamm, CCT's executive administrator.
Both groups aim to make poverty a national priority. More than 37 million Americans lived in poverty in 2007, and from 7.5 million to 10 million more could slip into poverty in the next year or two due to rising unemployment, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
"The reality of people on the margins pushed deeper in the current economic situation obligates us to work together in unprecedented ways on poverty," says forum member Mark Rodgers, who was chief of staff to former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican.
A bipartisan menu of antipoverty policies
Since November, a group of 18 conservative and progressive antipoverty experts have worked together to develop "significant but doable" initiatives to reduce poverty in the US. Here are a few ideas from their list of recommendations:
• Federal incentives for individual savings accounts
• Business partnerships to link young adults not employed or in school to work experiences
• Financial education and planning for low- and middle-income households
• Creation of 2 million "opportunity" housing vouchers
• Increase in the federal minimum wage
• Expansion of proven prisoner-reentry initiatives to combat recidivism and crime
• Promotion of responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage
Source: The Poverty Forum, February 2009