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Letter: Falling from Middle Class to Poverty

To the Editor:

While the economy shows signs of improving, many in our area are still facing hardships and struggling to make ends meet. This is a familiar fact to the counselors at United Community Ministries (UCM): over 300 people receive a three-day supply of food through UCM each day. UCM serves residents along the Route 1 Corridor and provides basic needs assistance as well as comprehensive housing, family, youth, employment and community development programs.

Fairfax County is working to prevent and end homelessness within the next decade, but it is not only the most vulnerable who are at risk. Without a coordinated federal effort, more and more of the middle class will fall into poverty, rather than developing skills and resources to become self-sufficient and successful.

Last November, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation to establish a federal working group to develop and implement a national plan to reduce poverty by half within 10 years. Despite the urgency of this issue, and co-sponsorship by Congressman Jim Moran, the legislation has sat in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for over three months. H.R. 3300, the Half in Ten Act of 2011, was designed in order to confront poverty and increase opportunity, but the bill will have no effect if it doesn’t become a law.

Back in 2008, Congress passed a resolution for the United States to set a national goal of cutting poverty in half over the next 10 years. This bill puts those ideas into action by establishing a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty within the Department of Health and Human Services. This Working Group would address five specific goals: developing a plan for reducing the number of people living in poverty by half within 10 years; coordinating government policies and activities relating to poverty; ensuring government compliance with guidelines and policies related to policy; ensuring federal best practices in administration and maximizing outreach to disenfranchised communities; and enacting best practices for improved data collection.

In the Route 1 community, and at UCM, we see that our neighbors and clients are struggling. We need a coordinated national effort to decrease poverty, across the country and right here in Alexandria. During this election season, we need to let the candidates know that relying on the “safety net” is not a solution. We need to let our legislators know that we care about decreasing poverty and increasing opportunities and self-sufficiency. When we invest in strengthening the middle class, we strengthen the entire American economy. This bill can streamline government by coordinating federal antipoverty measures, and improve the accuracy of poverty data. Let your voice be heard, and speak out for your neighbors and your community. Let the candidates know that poverty is an issue that affects us all, and one that we need to prioritize on a national level.

Michelle Sheahan

Washington, D.C.