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Edwards Launches 10-Year Effort to Halve Poverty

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - Former presidential hopeful John Edwards has helped launch a campaign aiming to cut poverty in half in the United States by 2018.0522 07 1

"The challenge before us is to make it so that hard work is enough to get ahead again," said Edwards in kicking off the antipoverty campaign in Philadelphia last week.

To the former Democratic senator, that is "not just a question of helping our brothers and sisters who are living in poverty -- it is a question of restoring the fundamental fairness that this country was founded upon."

Edwards championed the cause of economic justice during his election campaign in the Democratic Party's primaries, and in his run for the vice presidency in 2004. Last week, he announced his support for Barack Obama as the party's 2008 presidential nominee.

The campaign, billed as "Half in Ten," aims to reduce poverty by half nationwide over the next 10 years.

"Poverty sounds big and complex and insurmountable, yet by making some simple legislative changes, we can immediately lift thousands of people out of poverty," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a Washington, DC-based advocacy group and one of the campaign's organizers.

Henderson and other organizers plan to push for a number of legislative measures, including a significant increase in the minimum wage and the so-called Earned Income Tax Credit, which offers a tax-time boost to the country's lowest-earning workers.

In 2006, 36.5 million people, or 12 percent of Americans -- most belonging to racial minorities -- lived in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Official figures suggest that, currently, nearly half of the nation's poor are Blacks and Hispanics.

As the 2006 Census report points out, a small-but-significant proportion of the White population -- less than 1 out of 10 -- is also suffering from economic hardship.

Last Friday, organizers of the "Half of Ten" campaign sent a letter to the U.S. Congress calling for the passage of a "meaningful" economic stimulus bill to help struggling families and invigorate the economy.

Congress passed a $168 million stimulus bill in February, but many rights advocacy groups say that was not enough to provide sustained help to low-income Americans. In their letter, the campaigners outlined a list of provisions that they say should be included in a second stimulus bill.

They suggest increased funding, or a prevention of cuts in funding, for unemployment benefits and other programs designed to help low-income families, such as food stamps; the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program; and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

The campaigners are also calling for a raise in funding for Medicaid; the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income families cope with rising energy costs; and Head Start, a program that serves children in low-income families.

"Federal inaction will allow millions without jobs to run out of unemployment benefits and will force young and old alike to go without food," the letter said. "Letting such preventable hardships occur is a not just a moral wrong -- it will make the recession more severe for all."

Early this month, CNN and Opinion Research Corp. released a public opinion poll showing that nearly 80 percent of U.S. citizens had no doubts that their country was in recession. The administration of President George W. Bush, however, does not use the word "recession" when referring the the nation's current economic problems.

Recently, in reflecting upon the state of the national economy, Bush acknowledged that it was "not as robust as any of us would like."

In releasing a major report last week, UN economists warned the economic downturn in the United States would have more negative impacts on the global economic situation.

The United States "remains a prime driver of the global economy," the report said, noting that "a crashing housing market and finance and credit weakness [in the United States] set off the global downturn."

Meanwhile, the "Half in Ten" campaign organizers say they are hopeful about the outcome of their efforts because they have picked a set of policy solutions that are targeted, achievable, and effective.

"With advocates across the country supporting us, we will cut poverty in half," said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN).

In addition to LCCR and CHN, the groups leading the "Half in Ten" campaign include the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

© 2008 One World

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