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Event Challenges Poverty Collaborative to Tackle Policy Issues

On September 15 from 6-8 p.m., Poverty: Is There Enough? A Poverty “Un-summit” will address public policy issues that systematically foster inequality and sustain poverty, according to its host Michelle Dillingham, C.E.O. of Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati.


In a series of videos on topics ranging from tax and criminal justice policy to support for public education and unions, Ms. Dillingham and her speakers argue that successfully addressing poverty requires systemic policy change — the kind of change they fear won’t be tackled by the Mayor’s Child Poverty Collaborative.

In her video, Ms. Dillingham criticizes the Child Poverty Collaborative because “the thread that’s been coming through has been a focus on personal responsibility, for example family planning, job training, soft skills, work ethic — individual personal issues around poverty — [and that what is] missing are systemic issues, [other] explanations as to why we have such poverty.”

The Child Poverty Collaborative has no such limited focus, according to Ross Meyer, vice president of community impact at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, a lead staff person for the Child Poverty Collaborative.  An early speaker did reference “family planning” as key to limiting poverty, but his views on that subject were publicly disavowed by Lynn Marmer, the Collaborative’s executive director, who said that speakers were brought in to stimulate dialog, not push an agenda.  Otherwise, no references have been made by the Collaborative to personal responsibility or any similar ideological framework.  In public and in writing, Ms. Marmer and Mr. Evans have consistently stated the Collaborative’s commitment to listen and be open to all solutions.

In response, Ms. Dillingham explained that she was not accusing the Collaborative of “victim blaming” by using the term “personal responsibility”, which she defines as any effort to help an individual rise above poverty.  As a licensed social worker, she applauds such work as necessary, but as a policy advocate she knows social programs will always be insufficient without addressing the larger “systemic” causes of poverty — like underfunded public schools, besieged labor unions, inequitable tax policy, and corporate welfare, among other issues raised in the “Perspectives on Poverty” videos.

Ms. Dillingham and her colleagues fear that the Collaborative will focus on individual empowerment programs rather than tackle these systemic issues.

The Collaborative’s website — and information provided at their June summit — shows that the Collaborative has already included some of these issues in their “systems map of poverty”, including criminal justice and education.  They also asked summit attendees to “add to the map anything that was missing”; it is uncertain if any “Perspectives on Poverty” speakers attended the summit to add their thoughts.

However, the Collaborative has not addressed –or included on their map of poverty–many of the public policy issues raised by Ms. Dillingham and her team.  Tax and corporate welfare issues in particular are absent, key policies that to a large extent determine the resources available for the systems issues that the Collaborative will eventually address.  Many have criticized the Preschool Promise for its socially unjust funding stream because city property owners are footing the bill, rather than using a county income tax increase to ensure that all communities pay for the region’s poor who were left behind during the suburban exodus.

Ms. Dillingham acknowledges that they are operating in the dark because the Collaborative has not yet introduced their recommendations (which are being developed behind closed doors). In the end, she hopes that her Poverty Un-Summit will inspire the Collaborative to embrace a range of approaches, from best-practice social programs to public policy reform that frees up resources for those programs.

To weigh in, attend the Un-Summit.  As Ms. Marmer says, none of has all the answers, and it will take all of us–and for Ms. Dillingham, all approaches–to get the job done.

1 Comment »

  1. I attended the Un-Summit this evening and was extremely disappointed. I assumed that this was an action-oriented event. Instead, the audience was talked at for an hour by seven speakers, each of whom had six minutes to make a statement, the sum of which was yes, there is poverty, and yes it is bad, and yes, we ought to do something about it. The speakers were all fine, informative speakers and I appreciate that they were terrifically confined in what they could accomplish in the few minutes each of them had But there was no movement, no forum, no direction for actually doing something about the problem. I went to this forum because I believed that we were to discuss ways to carry a progressive agenda into the Child Poverty Collaborative process. Instead, we were encouraged to “mingle” after the formal program. Mingling is not at all what I came for. I would much rather have seen a discussion of concrete steps to address the topic at hand. Key questions that could have been asked: Should we, as progressives, forget about the Child Poverty Collaborative? Should we find a way to advocate for systemic change within it? If so, what shape could that take?

    When will we have that discussion?


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