Approximately 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live below the federal poverty level – more than 12 percent of the overall population.
One group of state legislators wants to do something about it. Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and the House Majority Policy Committee initiated a process to take a closer look at poverty in our Commonwealth and examine efforts to address the problem by community groups across the state.
The objective of Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty is to examine the many aspects of poverty and the corresponding challenges that come with each of them. The goal is to determine how Pennsylvania can remove the barriers that prevent families from overcoming the challenges of poverty.
The initiative centers on four key principles: identifying barriers, building partnerships, developing solutions and maintaining the commitment. The aim, however says Reed, is not only to help families escape poverty, but to create permanent gateways toward new opportunities for individuals and families.
“Contrary to a common misconception, poverty in PA is not confined to one or just a few regions of the state, and it is not confined to one demographic,” said Fran Viglietta, director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Social Concerns Department. “It is a concern to all communities – urban, suburban and rural.”
As perhaps one of the largest faith-based providers of services to the poor and people in need, the Catholic Church and its charitable agencies are keenly interested in this initiative. More than 360,000 individuals each year receive one or more services from Catholic charities ranging from direct aid through food pantries and soup kitchens, housing and utilities assistance, or help with clothing and other basic needs; to behavioral health, family counseling, and addiction programs.
Viglietta views the Empowering initiative as a partnership among state government, faith-based groups and non-profit organizations that intends to crisscross the state. “Working together we can develop a better understanding of the cycle of poverty, make the most of the current efforts being undertaken to help people escape poverty and assess if or what should be the government’s role in addressing poverty,” he added.