Poverty task force presents report

  
Staff Report
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Gov. Tim Kaine today received the recommendations of Virginia’s Poverty Reduction Task Force, a collection of public- and private-sector partners tasked with making policy recommendations to combat poverty in the Commonwealth.

The task force, co-chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Resources Marilyn B. Tavenner and Richmond attorney Robert Grey, advised that the Commonwealth focus on four primary goals to increase economic stability for approximately 750,000 Virginians – including 250,000 children – living in poverty:
– Invest in early childhood development and education
– Enhance workforce readiness by expanding access to career development programs and employment supports
– Promote savings and asset accumulation
– Expand safety-net opportunities for families in crisis 

“Although Virginia is performing well in some of these areas, the Task Force found that some of our policies need to be revised in order to address present-day needs,” said Kaine. “These recommendations — which are a constructive blend of economic development, workforce readiness and public benefit programs — present some great opportunities for public and private partnerships to help reduce poverty.”

One such program that would benefit from the recommendations is Smart Beginnings, an early childhood and development initiative, which has been successful in its mission of bolstering preparatory learning skills. Although there are currently 21 Smart Beginnings initiatives statewide, increasing the number of participating jurisdictions would further improve learning outcomes for children.

“Quality education beginning in pre-school makes the path out of poverty much more likely,” said Secretary Tavenner. “Research indicates that increasing educational attainment leads to a 15 percent reduction in poverty, which would be approximately 100,000 Virginians.”

Expanded access to early childhood education is among the Task Force’s 30 primary and second-tier recommendations. This is a finding shared by a number of states who have submitted reports to the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices, which awarded the Commonwealth a grant for the study.

The Task Force report further suggests that current economic realities require a re-examination of existing policies. One example is means testing, which mandates that individuals and families exhaust their savings and assets before receiving assistance.

“It takes longer to re-enter the workforce or re-establish any level of economic stability if the family vehicle has to be sold, or savings wiped out,” said Secretary Tavenner. “Our policies need to be responsible, but also responsive, in the midst of an evolving economic picture.”

Other recommendations in the report include:
– Researching insurance products that buffer financial impacts to low-income households
– Identifying and promoting lower-cost alternatives for small-scale cash loans
– Making the Virginia Earned Income Tax Credit refundable
– Expanding the capacity of the Virginia Community College System’s career development programming to prepare workers for the economic recovery
– Promoting financial education in the workplace

The Poverty Reduction Task Force convened in May 2009. Act on Poverty community input sessions held in July and an online survey yielded nearly 100 viable suggestions for consideration; these, along with national and state data, helped focus the committee’s work. The Task Force’s full report can be read here: http://www.dss.virginia.gov/geninfo/reports/agency_wide/poverty.html.

  

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