In tough times, elected officials ignore the needs of the poor

Some may be shocked by Steve Kilar's recent story highlighting the fact that one in four Baltimore residents live in poverty, and that many more struggle just above the outdated official poverty line ("Baltimore's poverty rate unchanged at 1 in 4 residents," Sept. 20).

The 28 organizations that comprise the Maryland Alliance for the Poor see the impact of widespread poverty every day in their programs and clinics. The realities of poverty in Baltimore are stark: 11.1 percent of the labor force is officially unemployed, and even those who work full-time at the minimum wage have incomes below the poverty line.

Nearly half of households with very low incomes are severely housing burdened — that is, they pay more than 50 person of their income on housing costs. More than 4,000 people are homeless every day, and thousands more are in unstable situations "doubled-up" with friends or family.

One in four households receive food stamps, and 83 percent of children enrolled in the Baltimore City Public School system are so impoverished that they qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

What's more shocking is that when times are this tough, some members of Congress are considering cuts to the social safety net. Reduced funding for the food stamp program would harm the most vulnerable members of our community. Many of our neighbors — the working poor and their children, people with disabilities, and the elderly — need this program to put food on the table.

What's most shocking is that at a time when Baltimore City ostensibly is committed to ending homelessness, it's waiving its own requirements for the creation of affordable housing, as Mr. Kilar reported on the same day the new poverty statistics came out ("Affordable housing requirement waived for Superblock," Sept. 20).

Federal proposals to cut programs like food stamps show a utter indifference to the tens of millions of people who are struggling to meet basic needs. For local officials to sidestep rules set up to create affordable housing for the poor calls into question their commitment to the very people who they're supposed to represent.

I may not be part of "the 47 percent" but I still believe that simple human decency entitles everyone have adequate food and shelter, even those working minimum wage jobs or with disabilities.

The decisions of our elected and appointed leaders will show what they believe. Do they believe poor kids should be able to eat? Do they believe low-income families should be homeless?

In these tough times, we need to make our voices heard in support of programs and policies that meet people's basic needs and build better futures.

Adam Schneider, Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Maryland Alliance for the Poor.

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