I was pleased to be able to join several of my House colleagues and local community leaders on Nov. 7 for a frank discussion about poverty in the Lehigh Valley and what we, as lawmakers, can do to help more individuals and families escape its grip. The roundtable took place at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown and included representatives from area schools, nonprofit organizations and economic development groups.
The House Majority Policy Committee has been holding meetings like this around the state in recent months to gain a better understanding of the extent of poverty in Pennsylvania and its devastating impact on communities like ours.
Our discussion focused on youth intervention efforts, community economic development initiatives and jobs programs for the unemployed and underemployed. We heard a number of great ideas for fighting poverty. One participant told us that reducing the number of high school dropouts is critical. Another told us that funding literacy programs is important.
We also learned that zoning issues contribute to the creation of impoverished neighborhoods. There are more than 60 municipalities in our region, each with its own zoning regulations, which makes it difficult to develop cohesive land use plans that would enhance economic development. One participant stressed that anti-poverty programs should not be about getting people “out of the hood,” but about turning struggling communities into places where people want to stay.
It has been nearly 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and the nation has spent some $7 trillion since then on anti-poverty programs. But despite all of that spending, there are still 26 million Americans today who live below the poverty line. We need to do better.
I’d like to thank committee Chairman Dave Reed for scheduling the meeting and everyone who took part. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in Harrisburg on developing effective legislative solutions to this serious problem.
-Rep. Justin Simmons