Panel takes on poverty

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Staff report

RALEIGH — The new Poverty Reduction and Economic Recovery Legislative Study Commission held its first meeting on Friday, with commission members agreeing that they must move quickly to give state legislators recommendations on ways to reduce North Carolina’s increasing poverty rate.
The purpose of the new commission is to study and develop a coordinated, integrated approach to poverty reduction and economic recovery across the state.
The Legislative Study Commission is comprised of 28 voting members representing the N.C. House, Senate, and the general public. It is co-chaired by Rep. Garland E. Pierce, who represents parts of Robeson County, and Sen. Edward Jones.
Following the establishment of the commission, Pierce said, “Poverty has significantly risen across our state due to major shifts in our state and national economy.
“More families and children are suffering in ways that they’ve never experienced before. We need a special focus on our rising and persistent poverty in North Carolina, particularly in the Eastern and Mountain regions. The study commission will assess this growing crisis across the state, review best practices models and solutions, and make its recommendations to the General Assembly.”
Pierce referred to Friday’s meeting as having a “lot of excitement.” He said that the attitude among commission members was that there is a need to move quickly to come up with recommendations for the state legislature to consider. A second commission meeting is slated for Jan. 16.
“As we speak, more people are falling into poverty,” Pierce said. “At 32 percent, Robeson County has the highest number of people in the state living in poverty.”
Pierce said that during Friday’s meeting, commission members heard about poverty from the national, regional, and state perspectives. They also were brought up to date on poverty in rural and urban settings.
“I was amazed to hear how much poverty there is in urban areas. It was staggering,” he said. “You expect there to be a lot of poverty in rural areas, but you don’t think of there being so much poverty in cities such as Charlotte and Raleigh.”-
Rev. Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton, is a public member of the new Legislative Study Commission.
“Forty-five of the 100 counties in North Carolina have a poverty rate of 17 percent and higher,” Legerton said. “There are successful examples of community-oriented, public/private partnerships, programs, and policies across our state and nation that reduce poverty and strengthen local and regional economies.
“Through study, review, and visits to learn first-hand about successful programs, legislators can see that creative solutions to poverty and local economic recovery are not as overwhelming or as far away as they sometime seem.”
State Sen. David F. Weinstein of Lumberton is also a member of the new commission. The senator, however, was unable to attend the commission’s first meeting.
“It (poverty) is a tough thing. It is a tough situation,” Weinstein said. “Poverty has been with us since the beginning of time. It is hard to solve.”
Education is the key to reducing poverty, he added.
“Education starts at home,” he said. “To get jobs here we have to have an educated workforce.”
The commission was formed following the filing of House Bill 2687, which was co-sponsored by Reps. Pierce and Angela Bryant.

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