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Op-ed

Those affected by poverty must be part of Gov. Moore’s efforts to end it | GUEST COMMENTARY

Governor Wes Moore presents his administration's 2024 budget proposal for Maryland. Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller is on left.  January 20, 2023

Expectations in Maryland are high for Gov. Wes Moore to lift from the bottom. His campaign put ending poverty — a systemic, intractable issue that politicians usually shy away from — on the agenda, by raising the minimum wage, increasing affordable housing and making pre-K free, among other reforms.

Over half a million Marylanders live in poverty, which is defined as making less than $25,926 annually for a family of four. Many others who earn slightly more are unable to pay for inflated rents, high food prices or child care. Indeed, a family with two working adults and two children in Maryland needs an annual income of $109,820 to be comfortable, based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage model.

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Even though we are one of the wealthiest states in the country, poverty persists, and its outcomes are brutal. As Governor Moore has highlighted, the Maryland state government can and must address poverty. We need a holistic approach that is built on the lived experiences of those who are most impacted by systemic, intergenerational poverty.

Wes Moore has a historic opportunity to bring those impacted by poverty and marginalization to the table to devise innovative solutions to our state’s systemic poverty and racial injustice. In his final book, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote tellingly that “the prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.”

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Who best understands this disease of deprivation, injustice and inequality? The very people who experience it day in and day out. Who best understands the barriers that stand in the way of securing affordable housing, paying for quality medical care, accessing healthy food and earning a living wage? The people in our state who fight for these things day in and day out.

Placing the voices and ideas of impacted people at the center of policy discussions can help Maryland devise real solutions. Maryland is facing numerous, serious problems that we have not been able to adequately address; this is reflected in key policy priorities identified by the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign. Those priorities focus on achieving safe and secure housing for all and include:

  • Ending child poverty in Maryland;
  • Enabling a health care system that protects every Marylander;
  • Implementing the $15-minimum wage immediately;
  • And restoring communities devastated by unjust cannabis laws and inequitable application of these laws within the judicial system.

Beyond building a racially diverse team, Governor Moore should actively bring Maryland’s residents who are most impacted by poverty to testify, discuss and brainstorm solutions to the problems that they face every day.

We have a culture and system that too often blames the impoverished and marginalized for the problems they face. They are not seen as partners and experts, but as the cause for their misfortune or as mere recipients of assistance. Governor Moore has an opportunity to turn that perspective on its head. Low-wealth people understand the main constraints they face and how our economic system keeps them impoverished. They do not need to be told what the problem is, but they do need to be made part of the solution.

We are calling on Governor Moore to not only follow through on his promise to make ending poverty central to his administration, but to do so by enlisting low-wealth and marginalized people to devise solutions in partnership with Maryland’s government officials. This inclusivity would bring to the policy-making process a new kind of expert — low-wealth individuals, working families and marginalized communities with fresh perspectives, voices and ideas. They should be included as vital members of key policy committees and commissions, including those related to housing, the economy and health care. They should be invited to testify at hearings and consulted by decision-makers in the executive and legislative branches.

Maryland has a real opportunity to create positive change if we bring the right people — the experts on their own issues — to the table.

We have elected a new governor and delegates and senators to the Maryland General Assembly who are committing to make change. We can take advantage of our elected officials’ commitment to bring about change and use our citizens’ lived experiences as wisdom to produce new policy solutions. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

Social justice groups are here and ready to partner in this cause. Let’s make history together by tackling some of Maryland’s most significant and intractable problems.

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Abigail Conrad (maryland@poorpeoplescampaign.org.) is a member of the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign, a nonpartisan advocacy movement that unites people across the state to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. It is one of the state campaigns of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.


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