Forum Looks at Impact of Public Programs on Poverty in Greater Worcester

Public Programs Cut Child Poverty by More than Half, According to New Report on Poverty in Massachusetts

 Report Commissioned by MASSCAP and Written by MassBudget Looks at “Obstacles on the Road to Opportunity: Finding a Way Forward Together”

Forum Looks at Impact of Public Programs on Poverty in Greater Worcester

Congressman McGovern Stresses the Fundamental Importance of Making Our Voices Heard

Effective programs that help families to make ends meet, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, fuel assistance, school lunches, Head Start, and Social Security cut the number of people in Massachusetts living in poverty by almost half and reduce the number of children living in poverty by more than half, according to a new report on poverty called “Obstacles on the Road to Opportunity: Finding a Way Forward Together.” The report was commissioned by the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) and written by Nancy Wagman, Kids Count Director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget).

“There are myths out there about whether or not public programs reduce the number of people living in poverty – this report shows that the programs that community action agencies administer help hundreds of thousands of our vulnerable friends and neighbors in this state stay out of poverty,” said Joe Diamond, MASSCAP’s executive director.  “But it also provides valuable data about the structural challenges that must be addressed to make the economy work for everyone.”

The study notes that while the incomes of the highest income households have grown considerably over the past several decades, the same cannot be said for low-wage workers.  According to the study, “national economic policies stopped emphasizing wage growth, Congress allowed the real value of the minimum wage to decline, and labor law enforcement agencies weakened protections for workers.”  The positive news is that well-resourced communities in Massachusetts can help to counteract these national trends by lowering the barriers to opportunity.  Still, communities with fewer resources and higher concentrations of poverty are challenged to help residents living in poverty.

“Policies that help make work pay—such as the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit—and those that help people balance the demands of work and family—such as paid family and medical leave, earned paid sick days, and affordable child care—help working families find a way forward,” writes MassBudget’s Wagman in the report. “Policies that help families make ends meet—such as those that help put food on the table or provide other income supports—can help families through hard times. Policies that help communities thrive—such as those that support safe, healthy, and affordable housing, and that support high quality local education from the earliest days and into young adulthood—help give every child the best chance at a bright future.”

The report was discussed at a forum in Worcester co-sponsored by Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC) along with MASSCAP, who commissioned the study as an update of findings that the agency released in 2014. MASSCAP is the statewide association of 23 Community Actions Agencies (CAAs) operating in Massachusetts.

“Beyond the moral obligation we have to help people who are struggling on the road to economic self-sufficiency, there are tremendous social and economic repercussions for failing to do so,” said WCAC Executive Director Jill Dagilis. “This report and this forum provide a platform to define the challenges and spark critical policy changes needed to address income inequality.”

Noreen Johnson Smith, Vice President of Development and Advancement at Family Health Center of Worcester and WCAC Board Chair, moderated a panel discussion at the event, which took place at the Mechanics Hall in Worcester. In addition to highlighting the findings in the report, participants focused on the advocacy strategies that those working to end poverty should pursue. Panelists included Eric Batista, Chief of Operations and Project Management at the Office of the City Manager in Worcester, Anne Bureau, Director of Worcester Community Connections, Jeff Turgeon, Executive Director, Central MA Workforce Investment Board, and Jan Yost, President of The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.

“I’m so grateful for the work of everyone who came together here to shine a bright light on the critical importance of our safety net,” said Congressman McGovern. “We know the real impact these programs have on our communities. We know that when working families prosper, our economy prospers. Now, we need to make our voices heard on Beacon Hill and on Capitol Hill to ensure that every child and family – no matter who they are or where they come from – can get ahead and stay ahead.”

This landmark report is underwritten by The Boston Foundation, Cambridge Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Eastern Bank, Essex County Community Foundation, Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and Worcester Community Action Council.  You can read the findings here (executive summary here). The report was released in May at an event in Boston. Subsequent forums will take place in Springfield, MA on October 26 and in the Berkshires later in the year.

Click here to download full press release.